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The Forgotten People 



I Bayt Al Ara 


The Kurds in Syria 

The Forgotten People 

Kerim Yildiz 


First published 2005 by Pluto Press 

345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA 

and 839 Greene Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48106 

Copyright © Kerim Yildiz 2005 

The right of Kerim Yildiz to be identified as the author of this work has 
been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and 
Patents Act 1988. 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

ISBN 0 7453 2499 1 hardback 

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data applied for 

10 987654321 

Designed and produced for Pluto Press by 

Chase Publishing Services Ltd, Fortescue, Sidmouth, EX10 9QG, England 
Typeset from disk by Stanford DTP Services, Northampton, England 
Printed and bound in the European Union by 
Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham and Eastbourne, England 


Map of the area inhabited by Kurds vii 

Introduction 1 

Part One The Kurds 

1 The Kurds 5 

2 Kurdish History 12 

Part Two Syria 

Introduction 23 

3 Syrian History: 1918-2005 27 

4 Syrian State Structure 43 

5 Regional Relations 56 

6 Water Resources and Conflict 65 

7 International Relations 77 

Part Three The Kurds in Syria 

Introduction 91 

8 The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 94 

9 The Political Rights of Kurds in Syria 106 

10 Kurdish Cultural Rights 116 

Conclusion 122 

Appendix 1 Treaty of Sevres (Articles 62-64) 125 

Appendix 2 Syria's International Law Obligations 127 

Notes 129 

Bibliography 149 

Index 155 

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40 " 

45 " 

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Map of the area inhabited by Kurds 


The Kurdish question is one determining the rights of a group of 
more than 30 million people, a group that is predicted to become 
the third largest national group in the Middle East. Comprising 
the world's largest stateless nation, the Kurds are a people whose 
population and lands form a contiguous geographical area divided 
between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria with smaller numbers in the 
former Soviet Union. 

Kurdish issues are not widely discussed or written about and 
existing literature has focused mainly on the Kurds of Turkey and 
Iraq. The plight of the large Kurdish population in these countries is 
relatively well-known due to the extent of the atrocities committed 
against them, their resort to armed struggle, and their international 
involvement in determining the political future of Iraq and Turkey's 
future status within the European Union. Whilst moderate attention 
has been given to the position of Kurds resident in Iran, there has 
been even less consideration for the Kurds in Syria. As must be 
acknowledged, this situation is somewhat explicable, not least because 
researchers face many difficulties in trying to obtain information on 
the subject of Kurds in Syria. Another underlying cause is that in 
comparison to other countries with Kurdish populations, the Kurdish 
population in Syria is relatively small, making the issues faced by their 
population ostensibly less vital to studies of Kurdish issues. 

However, within Syria the Kurds compose almost 10 per cent of 
the population, a not-inconsiderable section of Syrian society with its 
own distinct language, culture and ethnic identity. Despite the size of 
this group, the Syrian state has not accorded the Kurds recognition as 
a native national or ethnic minority but instead perceives the Kurds 
as a threat to Syrian national security and unity. As a consequence, 
the Kurdish minority in Syria has been persecuted, suppressed and 
marginalized to the extent that even expressions of ethnic identity, 
such as language and cultural traditions, are illegal and given political 
meaning. In their attempts to control and contain the Kurdish identity 
and communities, the state's policy towards the Kurds has involved 
coercive force, socio-economic and political marginalization, and 
complex forms of co-option and divide-and-rule policies. 

This study developed from the lack of available literature that 
provided both historical context and events together with the present- 


2 The Kurds in Syria 

day problems faced by Kurds in Syria. Incorporating Kurdish-Syrian 
relations, regional relations and international relations and issues, the 
book draws upon interviews with Kurds and other individuals both 
in Syria and in the diaspora. It draws together existing material on 
the subject and is intended to act as a platform from which further 
research and discussion can be launched. 

The book seeks to highlight human rights issues pertaining to the 
Kurds of Syria, whilst contextualizing the Kurdish question in Syria 
and providing some explanation for its development. By placing 
the Kurdish predicament within its historical and regional context, 
the Syrian state's treatment of its Kurdish population can be more 
easily understood and compared to minimum standards demanded 
by international law. 

The book is divided into three parts, the first of which provides 
an introduction to the Kurds. In the second part, Syrian history and 
both regional and international relations are analysed, explaining 
many of the influences on the Kurdish question in Syria. Finally, part 
three discusses the discrimination suffered by Kurds in Syria both in 
the past and present. Examples used within the book are intended 
to illustrate the forms of discrimination that the Kurds encounter in 
Syria and the nature of the abuses of their human rights, rather than 
to provide an exhaustive account of the history of the persecution of 
the Kurds. Although one of the aims of this book is to provide a more 
detailed and comprehensive account of the Kurdish predicament in 
Syria, the nature of the Syrian state prevents the full documentation 
of the extent and depth of this issue. It is hoped that this book will 
stimulate further research and debate of the issues involved in both 
the Kurdish issue as it is defined by the Syrian state and as a wider 
nationally defined question. 

Part One 
The Kurds 


The Kurds 

Comprising the largest stateless nation in the world, the Kurdish 
people are divided between the sovereign states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, 
Syria and the former Soviet Union. Possessing a distinct language, 
culture and history, most Kurds retain a strong sense of national 
identity that extends beyond the borders of the states in which they 
live, despite attempts to assimilate them into the national identity 
of individual states. 

Given the complex relations between states containing indigenous 
Kurdish minorities, the Kurdish identity has proved politically 
problematic. Consequently, the regimes and institutions within those 
states tasked with defining and describing the Kurds and Kurdistan 
have frequently been influenced by 'political' considerations. 

It is generally agreed that the Kurds are a people of Indo-European 
origin who are believed to have settled in the area comprising 
Kurdistan over 4,000 years ago, although the earliest recorded 
inhabitants of the Kurdistan region are the cave inhabitants of circa 
10,000 BC. 1 There exists archaeological evidence of a people who 
lived between 6000 and 5400 BC in the Kurdish mountain regions, 
sharing a distinct 'Halaf culture. The boundaries of the Halaf culture 
are similar to the area today referred to as Kurdistan. 2 

Today's Kurdish population is believed to be descended from 
the Hurri, Guti, Kurti, Medes, Mittanni, Hittites, Mard, Carduchi, 
Gordyene, Adiabene, Zila and Khaldi kingdoms 3 that ruled the areas 
of Kurdistan at different times. Of these, the most influential appears 
to be that of the Hurrians, found in the Zagros, Taurus and Pontus 
mountains from around 4300 BC onwards. By approximately 2500 
BC, the small Hurrian-founded states began to evolve into larger 
political entities, including the polities of Urartu, Mushq/Mushku, 
Urkish, Subar/Saubar, Baini, Guti/Qutil and Manna. 4 Qutil became 
a powerful Hurrian principality, and it is often thought that 'Kurd' 
is a derivation of 'Qutil'. 5 According to Mehrdad Izady, nearly two 
thirds of Kurdish clan names and roughly half of topographical and 
urban names are of Hurrian origin; and many tattoos worn by Kurds 
on their bodies are identical to motifs found on Hurrian figurines. 6 


6 The Kurds in Syria 

Victory records of Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser I, who ruled 
between 1114 and 1076 BC, record the 'Kurti' or 'Qurtie' as a people 
located in Mt. Azu/Hazu, conquered by the King during his mountain 
campaigns. Alternatively, Professor Izady suggests that the name may 
be derived from the Akkadian 'Kurtei', 'an indeterminate portion or 
groups of inhabitants of the Zagros and eastern Taurus mountains', 
dating its usage back some 3,800 years. Whatever its origin, the name 
'Kurd' (or 'Kurt') itself is thought to have been firmly established by 
the third century BC. 7 


Taken literally, Kurdistan means 'land of Kurds'. The name was first 
given to a province of the Turkish Suljuk created by Prince Sand jar 
in the mid-twelfth century AD, a province roughly coinciding 
with Kordistan in modern Iran. 8 Today, although it does not exist 
as an independent state, the name Kurdistan is used to refer to 
the geographical area within which Kurds form a majority. The 
borders of this area are not fixed and territorial claims vary between 
different organizations, groups and individuals according to political 
considerations. Even so, Kurdistan is a distinct and recognized area, 9 
stretching from the Zagros and Taurus mountain chains which make 
up its backbone, extending south to the Mesopotamian plains and 
northwards to the steppes and plateaus of what was Armenian 
Anatolia. 10 The area was divided between the Persian and Ottoman 
empires in the sixteenth century after the battle of Chaldiran. 
Following the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s and 
the post-First World War settlements partitioning Ottoman territory 
between European imperial powers, Kurdistan was divided yet again 
between what are now the modern sovereign states of Iran, Turkey, 
Iraq, Syria, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Kurdish communities can also be 
found through the Trans-Caucasian and Asian republics, in Georgia, 
Kazakhstan, Kirguz and Turkmenistan. 11 

The Kurds have traditionally taken to farming and agricultural 
production. Until the late nineteenth century, stockbreeding was 
the most important economic activity in the area of Kurdistan, with 
nomadic Kurds moving flocks of sheep and goats between the lower 
plains and higher pastures according to the season. With the advent 
of international borders, many of these nomadic farmers were forced 
to settle, although many of them continued their involvement in 
stockbreeding. 12 

The Kurds 7 

Kurdish areas are agriculturally and mineral rich, producing 
tobacco, cotton and grain, copper, chrome, iron and lignite. The 
Kurdish regions account for 15 per cent of Turkish, 30 per cent 
of Iraqi and 35 per cent of Iranian cereal production. 13 Within 
the Kurdish areas, concentrations of oil can be found where the 
official territories of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq meet. Control over 
exploration, extraction and transportation of oil and the revenues 
accruing from these fields is a major source of tension between Kurds 
and the governments of these countries. The increasing importance 
of oil since the Second World War has meant that these states are 
reluctant to cede any territory to the Kurds; as a result much of the 
Arabization, Turkification and Islamification of Kurdish areas can be 
put down to economic considerations. 

The area composing Kurdistan is also rich in water resources, 
placing it increasingly at the centre of regional disputes and conflicts. 
The construction of dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers has had 
devastating effects on the many thousands of Kurds who have been 
displaced. 14 These dams have also had serious effects further down- 
stream in neighbouring states including Syria and Iraq; the issue of 
water flows between these countries has on occasion brought Iraq, 
Turkey and Syria to the brink of war. 15 


The absence of reliable figures for the Kurdish population is an area 
of considerable contention, intertwined with political considerations. 
Whilst Kurdish nationalist groups may exaggerate figures, governments 
of states containing minority Kurdish populations benefit from 
underestimating the number of Kurds, carrying out few official 
censuses which recognize ethnic identity as a legitimate category of 
registration. In Turkey, Ankara only recognized the existence of Kurds 
within the borders of Turkey in 1990, having previously referred to 
Kurds as 'mountain Turks' and the Kurdish language as a dialect of 
Turkish. In Syria, the government considers the Kurdish population 
to be a result of migration from Turkey and not an endogenous ethnic 
or national group. 

Population estimates consequently rely on historical data, 
dating from the colonial period, the Ottoman millet 16 system and 
the tanzimat reforms of Ottoman Turkey. 17 Since then, rapid and 
uneven demographic change has occurred within the Middle East. In 
addition, due to the association of socio-economic marginalization 

8 The Kurds in Syria 

and poverty with higher population growth and fertility rates, the 
Kurdish population is considered to be growing faster than the 
Turkish population. 

An estimate of the present Kurdish population hovers between 24 
and 27 million, with 13 million Kurds in Turkey, 4.2 million in Iraq, 
5.7 million in Iran, over 1 million in Syria (between 8.5 and 12 per 
cent of the Syrian population) and smaller populations in Armenia, 
Azerbaijan and the Kurdish diaspora. 


According to Merhdad Izady, there are two main branches of the 
Kurdish language. Firstly, the Kurmanji group, which consists of 
northern Kurmanji spoken mainly in northern Kurdistan, and Sorani, 
spoken in the south. Secondly, the Pahlawani/Pahlawanik group, 
which also consists of two main dialects, Dimli or Zaza which is 
spoken in north-west Kurdistan, and Gurani, 18 spoken in enclaves of 
southern Kurdistan. 19 These main dialects are then subdivided into 
scores of more localized dialects. 20 

Despite this complexity, the more dominant group today is 
Kurmanj, with Kurmanji spoken in north, west and east Kurdistan and 
Sorani in southern Kurdistan. There are many similarities between the 
two dialects, such that understanding and communication between 
these dialects is reasonable. 21 

Between 1932 and 1943, Celadet All Bedir-Xan published the 
journal Hawar, in which he developed written Kurmanji using Roman 
script instead of Arabic/Persian. 22 Bedir-Xan's script was circulated 
clandestinely within Turkey, contributing to rising literacy levels 
within Kurdish communities there. Written Sorani, which had 
been used by poets and writers in southern Kurdistan during the 
nineteenth century, was further developed by Colonel Tawfiq Wahbi, 
who altered the script phonetically following the First World War. 
However, restrictions on the printing and use of the Kurdish language 
prevented the Kurds from learning their language and standardizing 
its use. 23 

Similar restrictions continue to obstruct Kurdish linguistic 
development and grammatic standardization today. The majority 
of Kurds are not taught to read or write in the Kurdish languages. In 
Turkey and Syria, the use of Kurdish in public has been restricted both 
by law and through intimidation. As a result, teaching and studying 

The Kurds 9 

of the Kurdish languages has become a clandestine affair for much 
of the Kurdish population in these two countries. 


Traditionally, the majority of Kurds followed the ancient Hurrian 
religion of Yazdanism and even today the influence of this ancient 
religion can be found in Kurdish popular culture and religious ritual. 
Around a third of Kurds still follow branches of Yazdanism, though 
the majority of Kurds today (approximately three fifths) are Muslim. 
Some Kurdish communities adhere to other religions and sects that 
draw elements from Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is an ancient 
religion dating back to around 500 BC, which is believed to have been 
deeply influenced by indigenous Kurdish religions; Yazdanism was 
seen as a contender to the ascendancy of early Zoroastrianism. Many 
significant Kurdish cultural practices, traditions and symbols can be 
traced to these two religions, including Newroz (the Kurdish New 
Year celebrated on 21 March), the worship of fire, the rising sun and 
others. Today, many of the religions practised by Kurdish communities 
throughout Kurdistan draw upon elements of these religions. 24 

Alevi and Ahl-I Haqq (Yarsanism) 

The Alevi religion is believed to have developed in the fifteenth 
century. Alevis can be found mainly in central Anatolia and there 
is a large overlap between Zaza speakers and adherents to the Alevi 
religion. This same overlap can be found with Gurani speakers and 
the Ahl-I Haqq religion in southern Kurdistan. The two religions 
and languages are thought to share the same origins (and, therefore, 
the people) and that the movement of various peoples through the 
centre of Kurdistan divided them into two distinct groups. Both 
religions share the veneration of the Imam 'Ali and both are based 
on Zoroastrian religious ideas. 25 Non Kurdish Alevis and Ahl-I Haqq 
can also be found in the same areas. 


Around 2 per cent of Kurds are Yezidis, a religion described as a 
synthesis of pagan elements and other religions including Yazdanism 
and Zoroastrianism, and elements of the Jewish, Christian and 
Muslim religions. 26 Yezidi Kurds speak Kurmanji and can be found 
in areas of Syria, Armenia and the Mardin-Midyat area of Turkey. The 
small population of Yezidis is testament to the treatment endured by 

10 The Kurds in Syria 

followers of this religion. For believing in the god Shytan, Yezidis have 
been accused of being devil worshippers and on that basis have been 
subject to discrimination. As a result, many former followers have 
converted to mainstream religions such as Islam and Christianity to 
avoid persecution. 


The majority of the Kurdish population converted to Islam between 
the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. Until this time Islam is said 
to have 'touched Kurdistan rather superficially, and primarily on 
its peripheries'. 27 Today, around three fifths of Kurds are Muslim, 
although for many it is seen as the religion of their oppressors. The 
majority of Muslim Kurds adhere to the Shafi'i school, a religious 
difference which demonstrates the relative resistance of Kurdish 
communities to Turkish and Arab penetration; the majority of Turks 
and Arabs of Mesopotamia adhered to the Hanafi school, which was 
the official religion of the sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire. 28 


Around 15 per cent of the Kurdish population are Ithna 'Ashari Shi'i. 
These Kurds are predominantly Sorani speakers living in Kirmanshah 
province in Iran, with smaller communities in Kordistan province. 
The Fayli Kurds, a group of approximately 150,000 Kurds expelled 
from Iraq to Iran in the 1970s and 1980s are also adherents to this 


The remainder of Muslim Kurds belong to one of the Sufi brotherhoods, 
whose traditions and rituals include fire-eating, self-mutilation and 
trances. These traditions suggest pre-Islamic roots and influences and 
signals the importance of social origins. 

Other religions 

The remaining members of the Kurdish community are a 
mixture of Christians, Jews, Davidians (Kak'ai), Naqshabandi and 
Gelani Qadiri. 

The main Christian communities in Kurdistan are the Armenians and 
the Assyrians. Although Armenians and Assyrians can be considered 
ethnically distinct from the Kurds, a number of communities have 
merged with Kurdish tribes, with records showing that some Kurdish 
communities have adhered to Christianity from the mid-twelfth 

The Kurds 1 1 

century. In addition, Christian missionaries targeted Yazdani and 
Zoroastrian Kurds in the eighteenth century, causing many Kurds 
to convert to Christianity. 

Jews have been found in Kurdistan for more than 2,000 years, 29 
although the majority of Jews emigrated to Israel following the events 
of the Second World War and an increase in anti-Semitism. There 
are around 150,000 Kurdish Jews in Jerusalem, 30 many of whom 
still identify themselves as Kurdish. Kurdish Jews can also be found 
in Iran. 


Kurdish History 

'Sykes-Picot Agreement: (May 9, 1916), secret convention made 
during World War I between Great Britain and France, with 
the assent of imperial Russia, for the dismemberment of the 
Ottoman Empire.' 

Encyclopaedia Britannica 

For many Kurds, May 1916 denotes a turning point in Kurdish history. 
The Sykes-Picot Agreement set the stage for Kurdistan to be divided 
according to Western interests; interests which would ultimately 
deny the Kurds the right to self-determination promised to them in 
subsequent discussions and agreements. 

Following the defeat of Turkish forces in 1918, the possibility 
to redefine national borders became a reality. Some progress had 
occurred on this prior to the end of the war, as Husayn, sharif of 
Mecca, entered into correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon, 
British High Commissioner of Egypt, over the future of Ottoman 
Arab lands. 1 

In 191 7, the Bolsheviks leaked details of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, 
the result of secret negotiations between Britain and France in May 
1916. The Agreement, negotiated by Sir Mark Sykes and Francois 
Georges Picot, removed most of Anatolia from Turkish control 
with Russia, Italy and Greece all receiving territory as a reward for 
cooperation. Following the Bolshevik withdrawal from the scheme, 
the Cossack territories and the Caucasus including Armenia, 
Georgia and Kurdistan were instead assigned to British influence. 2 
The Agreement consequently partitioned Kurdish territory between 
several areas of influence, subordinating the Kurds and the region of 
Kurdistan to Allied interests in both Syria and Mesopotamia. 

Having thus far tried and failed to achieve an end to the war in a 
way that would enable both sides to participate in building long-term 
peace, on 8 January 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson articulated 
the Fourteen Points, a programme that Wilson considered would 
form the basis of such a lasting peace. Covering such principles as 


Kurdish History 13 

freedom of the sea and a League of Nations, Wilson also affirmed the 
principle of self-determination in his twelfth point, 

XII. The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be 
assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are 
now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of 
life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of an autonomous 
development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened 
as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under 
international guarantees. 3 

This vision for the national groups contained within the former 
Ottoman Empire was rejected by Allied powers, and the Fourteen 
Points failed to become a pronouncement of Allied Policy. 4 


As British interest in the region shifted to Mosul for its potential to 
enhance the future economic and political values of Mesopotamia, 
Britain began to favour a redefinition of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, 
which had originally provided for French control over Mosul vilayet. 5 
Britain and France entered into negotiations over the extent and 
status of an autonomous Kurdistan. 

Around the same time, fearful of Arab and Turkish rule and the 
division of land between the imperialist powers, Kurdish tribes began 
to organize themselves politically and negotiate with the various 
powers. Opinions within the Kurdish communities varied between 
those who supported the Western powers, those who were pro-Turkey 
and those who advocated complete independence. Many Kurds 
preferred not to commit to one particular standpoint among these 
different strands of thinking. 6 

Meanwhile, the rising power of Mustafa Kemal (Atattirk) in Turkey, 
his demands for Turkish independence, his irredentist 7 ideology and 
his negotiations with the Bolsheviks gave rise to new British concerns 
about the area north of Mosul vilayet and the protection of their 
interests in Mesopotamia. 8 Mindful of the need for a buffer zone 
between the Turks and the British area of control, the creation of an 
Armenian state and a Kurdish state became of increasing strategic 
interest for the British. In November 1919, they persuaded respective 
representatives to sign a Kurdish-Armenian declaration of solidarity 
against the return of Turkish rule. 9 As the US withdrew from the 

14 The Kurds in Syria 

area, their support for an independent Armenian state was lifted 
and the question of Anatolia was essentially left up to the British 
and the French. 

Signed in 1920, the Treaty of Sevres was a peace treaty between 
the allied forces and Turkey, reducing the territory of the Ottoman 
Sultanate State which had already been weakened by dependence on 
European powers for trade and finance. In drawing up the Treaty, a 
territory in present day south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq was 
explicitly designated as Kurdish territory. This territory extended north 
to the border of the then-envisaged newly independent Armenian 
state and south to the Syrian Jazira. 10 The Treaty provided for all 
racial and religious minorities within Ottoman territory; Articles 62 
to 64 dealt specifically with the Kurds and Kurdistan and the right 
to independence, which would be granted by the League of Nations 
following a referendum a year after the signing of the Treaty. 11 

However, the Treaty was at odds with the Turkish state envisaged 
by the nationalist Young Turks, the ruling Committee for Union 
and Progress (CUP) and was a compromise of Turkish territory that 
the leader of the nationalist resistance movement, Atatiirk, would 
never accept. At the same time as the Sevres negotiations, Turkey was 
confronted with external attack, primarily from Greece, and internal 
domestic civil unrest, particularly in the Kurdish and Armenian areas. 
The Turkish war of independence between 1920 and 1922 shifted 
the balance of power between the Turkish state and the British in 
Turkey's favour, establishing Atattirk's Turkey as a powerful threat to 
British interests both in Turkey and beyond. 


Before the ink had even dried, the Turkish war of independence 
caused the Treaty of Sevres to collapse. Gaining control over the 
southern Greek invasion, Turkish forces were redeployed to the 
Kurdish and Armenian regions and the Turks established a military 
presence in Rawanduz (in Northern Iraq). Britain was placed in a 
position in which antagonizing the Turks would be detrimental to 
their interests. 12 

By 1923, Atattirk's forces had overcome the old regime. This, 
combined with Turkish territorial gains and the declaration of the 
Turkish Republic, created a threat to British interests in Mesopotamia 
and Mosul vilayet. A policy of supporting Kurdish uprisings against 
the Kemalists 13 to secure the northern border of Iraq was encouraged 

Kurdish History IS 

by Greece and Kurdish nationalists, and contemplated by the British. 
However, striking a deal with the Kemalists was ultimately considered 
a better option than directly supporting Kurdish rebellions that lacked 
clear leadership and which might have led to unforeseen difficulties. 14 
The British were primarily concerned with protecting their interests 
in Mesopotamia and preventing the Turks from annexing territory 
in the area of Mosul under British control. It became necessary to 
renegotiate peace with Turkey, which made clear that independent 
Kurdish and Armenian states were no longer feasible. 15 

In spite of previous British references to the Kurds as being an 
'autonomous race' 16 and despite their protests to British representatives 
and having been promised Kurdish self-determination within this 
territory at Sevres, Kurdish representatives had no official part in 
the negotiations. Kurdish nationalists petitioned the British party 
to the Treaty demanding that their right for Kurdish autonomy be 
respected. However, British strategic interest in an autonomous or 
independent Kurdistan reduced in parallel with Turkey's gains in 
its war of independence and Kurdish protests against the Treaty 
were consequently sidelined in the face of British strategic geo- 
political interests. 

The Treaty of Lausanne was signed on 24 July 1923 following 
negotiations with Turkey. The Treaty granted Turkey sovereignty 
over the territory of Kurdistan now within modern Turkey. Although 
making provision for the 'protection of the life and liberty to all 
inhabitants of Turkey without distinction of birth, nationality, 
language, race or religion', 17 the Treaty failed to even mention the 
Kurds, who comprised around one third of the Turkish population 
and 48.5 per cent of the total Kurdish population. 

The result of this period of intense political manoeuvring was that 
by 1923, Kurdistan had been divided between five different states: 
Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the former Soviet Union. 


Within Iran, the Kurds were recognized neither as a non-Persian 
minority nor as a national group. In 1946, the Mahabad Republic 
was established; ruled by Ghazi Muhammad, leader of the Kurdistan 
Democratic Party of Iran (KDP), 18 it sought autonomy for Kurdish 
areas of Iran together with democracy for Iran. The Republic lasted 
a year before the Iranian authorities acted by arresting many KDP 
leaders, including Ghazi Muhammad. These arrests caused the KDP to 

16 The Kurds in Syria 

collapse. The KDP remained under harsh suppression, and struggled 
to renew its activities until the 1960s. 

The 1961 uprising of Iraqi Kurds, led by Mustafa Barzani, attracted 
the sympathy and support of Kurds in Iran, who sent material aid to 
the movement. Soon after, the Shah of Iran began to send direct aid 
to Barzani, attempting to weaken the Iraqi government. However, the 
Shah's actions were also calculated to make the Kurdish movement 
become dependent on such aid, both increasing the Shah's influence 
within the movement and also weakening the developing bond 
between the Kurds in Iraq and Iran. 

As Iranian Kurds returned from assisting in the Iraqi resistance, 
the Kurds of Iran were encouraged to begin their own movement 
and in 1967, the KDP launched an armed resistance movement that 
lasted for 18 months. However, as the leaders of the movement 
were killed during battles with the Iranian Army, the movement 
began to collapse and the uprising was crushed. In later years the 
Kurds of Iran played their part in uprisings against the Shah, and 
the Iranian Revolution. 19 

In 1979, the Kurds began to exploit the political vacuum created 
by events including the Iranian Revolution, the fall of the Shah and 
the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The KDP declared its own 
legislation and began to press for autonomy of Kurdistan, whilst the 
Turkoman and Arab communities did likewise in respect of their own 
communities. In August 1979, the authorities acted against the Kurds 
by declaring a holy war on them. Within a month, the Kurdish regions 
were under military control and military confrontation did not cease 
until December 1979, when the government began negotiating to 
grant limited autonomy to national minority groups. 20 

The Kurds were later used as pawns between the Iranian and Iraqi 
states during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Each state attempted 
to weaken the opponent's military powers, a tactic which caused 
Kurdish villages in Iranian Kurdistan to suffer heavy artillery attacks 
by both sides. 

In recent times, the oppressive treatment of the Kurds in Iran has 
relaxed. The Kurdish language is now permitted to be taught in the 
Kurdish regions and books covering Kurdish history and traditions 
are permitted to be published. Despite this new freedom, restrictions 
remain in place on the publishing of literature which could be 
interpreted as promoting separatism, literature on Kurdish nationalism 
and literature criticizing the Iranian authorities; furthermore, the 
suppression of Kurdish political rights is still in evidence. 

Kurdish History 1 7 


When establishing the Turkish Republic in 1923, Mustafa Kemal 
(Atatiirk) gave assurances that the Kurds would be guaranteed a 
degree of autonomy and that their cultural rights would be respected. 
However, the new government's radical programme of secularization 
and unification of the otherwise multi-confessional and multi-ethnic 
peoples that inhabited the modern state of Turkey, involved the 
homogenization and re-definition of diverse peoples as Turks. As a 
result, Kurdish rebellions in the south and south-east of Turkey, by 
Kurds aware of what they had lost through the abrogation of the Treaty 
of Sevres, were brutally crushed. They were subjected to a campaign 
of enforced displacement involving the destruction of villages and 
the removal of Kurds from these areas and their replacement with 
Turks from the interior. 21 

The Kurds remained politically subdued until the national 
reawakening of the 1960s and 1970s, which resulted in the formal 
but clandestine establishment of the Kurdistan Worker's Party ( Partiya 
Karkeren Kurdistan - PKK) on 27 November 1978. However, following 
the 1980 military coup, suppression of the Kurdish identity intensified 
to the point that the use of Kurdish language was forbidden. The state 
targeted the PKK, causing the leadership and many members to leave 
Turkey for exile in Syria. In 1984, the PKK began an armed guerrilla 
movement against military targets and the village guards within 
Turkey; Turkey's response was to create a 'security zone' along the 
Kurdish border areas similar to those that had already been started in 
Syria and in Iraq. This involved the destruction of countless Kurdish 
villages - condemned by the European Court of Human Rights - and 
the displacement of thousands of Kurds. Purported motives for the 
village destruction, which continued well into the 1990s, included 
removing PKK strongholds and logistical bases among the civilian 
population, clearing areas that would otherwise be difficult to control 
of their populations, and after 1990, preventing the extension of the 
Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq into Turkish territory. 

After the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan was expelled from 
Syria and captured by Turkey in 1999, the PKK declared a ceasefire 
and was dissolved. 


Iraq was granted full independence by the British in 1932 and 
by 1946 Mullah Mustafa Barzani had established the Kurdistan 

18 The Kurds in Syria 

Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq. A Kurdish uprising occurred in 
1961, when the Kurds of northern Iraq rebelled against Abd al-Karim 
Qassim's government. The initial uprising was crushed, but the Kurds 
continued with their rebellion until 1970, due to ongoing clashes 
with Iraq's governments. The accession of the Ba'th Party in 1963 saw 
an Arabization campaign in the Kurdish regions especially around 
Kirkuk, an area abounding with oil. Many Kurdish communities were 
destroyed and the Kurdish inhabitants of many hundreds of villages 
were forcibly evicted. In their place settled Arabs from southern and 
central Iraq, shifting the demographics of the region in order to 
increase Arab control over oil facilities. Further inside Iraq, Fayli Kurds 
living in Baghdad, Bassara and Amara were deported to Iran. 22 

The rebellion was ended by a peace agreement commonly referred to 
as the March Manifesto on 11 March 1970. This agreement recognized 
that the Kurdish nation existed in northern Iraq and provided for 
autonomous rule for the Kurds over three of the Kurdish provinces 
within northern Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the agreement did not include 
autonomy for oil-rich Kirkuk. Disputes over this, the provisions of the 
peace agreement and general disagreement over the boundaries of the 
autonomous regions led to an inevitable decline in relations between 
the Kurds and the government and by 1974, Kurdish rebellion had 
resurfaced. This time, the rebellion was supported by the Shah of 
Iran, in part due to the border dispute between Iran and Iraq over 
the Shatt al-'Arab waterways. As a result of the renewed unrest the 
Iraqi government placed the Kurds under yet more suppression, with 
further village destruction and harassment of Kurdish regions in 
Kirkuk and along parts of the border with Turkey. Yet more Fayli 
Kurds were deported to Iran from the interior of Iraq. 

This uprising was suppressed in 1975 with the signing of the Algiers 
Agreement between Iran and Iraq and Iran's consequent withdrawal 
of support for the Kurds. When in 1978 Saddam Hussein gained 
power and led his country against Iran in what became known as 
the Iran-Iraq War (1980 to 1988), the Iranians restored their support 
for the Kurds. However, even this support could not prevent the 
effects of Saddam Hussein's 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds. 
This campaign consisted of the systematic destruction of Kurdish 
villages and the arrest and killings of the Kurds themselves by the 
Iraqi government and army. 

The Anfal campaign began in the southern Kurdish regions and 
spread northward so that by mid- 1988, the Kurds were trapped 

Kurdish History 19 

between Iraqi forces pushing north and Turkish forces pushing south 
to prevent the Kurds from entering Turkey. The pattern in most 
villages was identical: following bombardment, sometimes with 
chemical weapons, the village's Kurdish inhabitants would flee, only 
to be caught by Iraqi troops. Kurdish males were generally taken 
away and never seen again and it is believed that many of them were 
executed. Once the village was empty, the buildings were destroyed to 
prevent resettlement. It is estimated that 182,000 Kurds were killed, 
with 300,000 more Kurds unaccounted for and over 1.5 million Kurds 
were displaced as a result of the Anfal campaign. 23 

One of the most well-known Kurdish towns to fall victim of the 
Anfal campaign was Halabja, which was attacked with chemical 
weapons in March 1988. Over several days, Iraqi forces dropped 
combinations of mustard gases and nerve gases including sarin, 
killing 5,000 civilians within hours and maiming 10,000 more. 
Thousands more victims died of complications or birth defects in 
the years following the attack. Chemical weapons were also used in 
around 40 other attacks. 24 

Following the 1990 Gulf War and its resultant sanctions on Iraq, 
and emboldened by American rhetoric encouraging the Kurds to 
revolt against Saddam Hussein's regime, the Kurdish and Shi'i groups 
rose against Saddam in their respective areas of the country. With 
no international support provided, these rebellions were quickly 
crushed and around 2 million Kurds fled northwards toward Turkey 
and Iran in fear of reprisals. The unfolding humanitarian tragedy 
finally forced international action and a safe haven with no-fly 
zones was established in northern Iraq. Kurdish autonomy within 
the safe haven flourished and developed. Following the 2003 Iraq 
War, the future for the hitherto autonomous region of northern Iraq 
is again uncertain. 25 


The complexity of Syrian history has been both the cause of increased 
calls for Kurdish autonomy and independence within Syria and the 
cause of Syrian authorities associating the Kurds with external powers 
and separatism. The histories of the Syrian state, the Middle East 
region and of international relations have all influenced the state's 
perception of itself and of its Kurdish population. The background to 
the Kurdish predicament in Syria is essential to understanding state 

20 The Kurds in Syria 

policy towards the Kurds and of Kurdish demands and activities in 
Syria. It is to the development of this history and to Kurdish-Arab 
relations in Syria that this book now turns in order to identify how 
the present situation has arisen. 

Part Two 


In comparison with the Kurds in other areas of Kurdistan, the number 
of Kurds in Syria is noticeably smaller, with a population of around 
1.5 million. In July 2003, the US Department of State estimated 
the Syrian population to be 18.2 million with the Kurds forming 9 
per cent of the total Syrian population. Both the UK Foreign Office 
Country Profile and the CIA World Fact book tally with this Syrian 
population estimate of 18 million, although these sets of statistics 
combine the Kurds and other minority groups together to estimate 
their representing 9.7 per cent of the total population. The Human 
Rights Association of Syria estimates there are 1.5 million Kurds 
in Syria, representing between 8.5 and 10 per cent of the Syrian 
population. Therefore it seems safe to state that within Syria, the 
Kurds are estimated to form between 8.5 and 10 per cent of the total 
population, or around 1.5 to 2 million people. 

However, Syrian officials do not consider the Kurds to be a 
national or ethnic minority, even though the Syrian Kurds adhere 
to different cultural practices and festivals, and notwithstanding the 
difficulties Kurds often face in adhering to such practices. Despite 
repeated attempts by the Syrian authorities to assimilate the Kurds 
into the Syrian Arab identity, the Kurdish identity has remained 
distinct, although the geographical dispersal of Kurds within Syria 
has hindered their ability to amass a unified Kurdish social, cultural 
and political force. 


Kurmanji is spoken by Kurdish throughout Syria, with only the 
accent varying between the Kurd-Dagh and Jazira regions, where the 
language is influenced from Turkey and Iraq respectively. The Latin- 
based Kurmanji script was developed by Celadet All Bedir-Xan during 
the French Mandate in Syria and was used in his journal, Hawar. 1 

Despite permitting Kurdish cultural organization and expression 
during the French Mandate, when their mandate ended and Syria 
gained its independence the French did not secure any guarantees 
for Kurdish minority rights within Syria. As a result, following the 
French withdrawal, the Kurds were faced with many measures that 
made the teaching and learning of Kurdish illegal. 

Due to the restrictions on using Kurmanji, many Syrian Kurds are 
bilingual and speak both Kurmanji and Arabic, although Kurmanji 
remains the dominant language in the Kurdish regions of northern 


24 The Kurds in Syria 

Syria. In these areas knowledge of Arabic is often lacking, as most 
Kurds do not begin to learn Arabic until age five. By contrast, in 
Damascus, many of the non-migrant Kurdish population now grow 
up as Arabic speakers. 2 


Within Syria, the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, although 
it is reported that a large number of Kurds are rejecting Islam 
and expressing a renewed interest in what are considered to be 
'traditional' Kurdish religions and beliefs, such as Zoroastrianism. 
Because heterodox marriages are not recognized under Syrian law, it 
is believed that many Kurds who adhere to heterodox religions are 
officially registered as Muslims for purposes of marriage and state 
schooling. Therefore, the official number of Kurdish Muslims is likely 
to be lower than in reality. Although a significant Yazidi Kurdish 
community of around 10,000 people exists in the Kurd-Dagh region, 3 
its population is declining as the Arabization of Kurdish areas has 
increased the Islamization of their religious beliefs. 

Kurdish settlement 

Kurdish settlements in Syria can be found in several main areas, 
including the Kurd-Dagh, Kubani, al-Hasakeh and Damascus. 

The Kurd-Dagh 

This area is found at the foot of the Taurus mountain range. Kurdish 
settlement in this region is believed to date back hundreds, if not 
thousands of years. 4 The Kurd-Dagh is one of the most densely- 
populated areas of Syria, with a majority Kurdish population. There is 
a relatively small Arab population dating back over the last 40 years. 
The main town in the region is Afrin, and is surrounded by agricultural 
land and villages. The Kurds in this area are predominantly involved 
in agriculture and related industries, with the main crops consisting 
of olives, fruits and tobacco. The area also produces meat and dairy 
products for the Aleppo market. 

Kubani ('Ayn al-'Arab) 

This is the smallest Kurdish area in Syria, and is found to the north- 
east of Afrin, bordering Turkey. The area focuses on agriculture, 
fruit and vegetable production and livestock farming. Kubani is an 
almost entirely Kurdish town, although in the east and west the 
towns of Tel Abyad and Jarablus are inhabited equally by both Kurds 

Part Two: Introduction 25 

and Arabs, following Arabization. The Turkish border is closed in 
Kubani, but open for trade in Tel Abyad and Jarablus, which has 
caused most industrial and economic development to occur in those 
two towns. The economic marginalization of Kubani, which remains 
underdeveloped, is believed to have been a deliberate policy aimed 
at dividing and disempowering the Kurdish communities in Syria 
and Turkey. 

Al-Hasakeh province in north-eastern Syria 

This region is also known as al-Jazira (the Island) because it was 
bounded by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and was traditionally 
used for seasonal grazing by Kurdish nomads and Arab Bedouin tribes. 
As international borders were defined, the Kurdish nomads were 
encouraged to settle and, noticing the benefits of settled agriculture, 
the Arab Beduoin soon followed suit. 

Many Kurds fled to Syria from Turkey to escape oppression by 
Kemal Atattirk's forces in the 1920s and 1930s, settling primarily 
in the Jazira region. The Syrian government often uses this fact to 
argue that all Kurds in Syria are migrants from other states, but many 
formerly nomadic Kurdish tribes had already settled and developed 
agriculture in the region by the late nineteenth century. 5 These Kurds 
then applied their farming expertise to the once arid land and helped 
to establish the Jazira region as the 'bread basket' of modern Syria. 


In the eleventh century bands of Kurds fought in both regular and 
irregular Muslim armies, the most famous of these soldiers being 
Salah al-Din Ayubi (Saladin). These bands established cantons in and 
around Damascus which over time became permanent settlements; 
as these forces were organized along ethnic or kin ties, so settlement 
of these groups followed ethnic divisions. Distinct Kurdish quarters 
were established, including the former cantons of Hayy al-Akrad (the 
Kurdish quarter), and al-Salhiyya districts situated in the north-east 
of Damascus on the slopes of Jabal Qasiyun. The Kurds in these 
areas are more assimilated into Arab culture than the Kurds of 
northern Syria. 

Until Syrian independence in 1946, the centralization of power 
and the breaking of local hierarchies, a number of Kurdish agha 
families dominated this Damascene Kurdish community. The al- 
Yousef and the Shamdin families were two such families whose power 
and influence was linked to the Ottoman establishment and the 

26 The Kurds in Syria 

central authority in Istanbul and based upon ethnic and kinship 
ties. Although today the power of these families has waned, many 
Kurds in Damascus occupy a more privileged position than that of 
their kin in the Kurdish north. 

In addition, large numbers of Kurds have migrated to Damascus, 
Aleppo and other Syrian cities from the Kurdish regions, causing 
an increase in the Kurdish population of these cities. Many of these 
Kurds are employed in menial labour and live in the Damascene 
suburbs. One suburb, Zor Ava or 'built by force' has been built entirely 
by these migrant Kurds, with no legal authority. 


Syrian History: 1918-2005 

Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, two drifts of opinion 
began to emerge in the Ottoman territories, which would eventually 
influence Arab outlook on the Kurds in Syria. Within Syria, the two 
opinions were distinguishable by a predominantly urban-rural divide, 
a divide also reflected within the Kurdish community. From the 
creation of the French Mandate through to independence in 1946, 
Arabs increasingly embraced Arab nationalism, which conflicted with 
the public positions of the Kurds in Syria. 

Within the provinces, the Kurdish population and provincial 
leaders predominantly supported the administrative decentralization 
policy of the French, as this transferred administrative power to the 
dominant ethnic communities within a province. For example, 
during the Turkish war of independence, the Milli tribe of the Jazira 
assisted the French in repelling Turkish advances; this came at a time 
when the French were considering the creation of a Kurdish enclave 
in the area stretching from Urfa (Riha) in the west to Cizre (Jazira 
bin 'Umar) in the east. 1 

Within the urban cities, opinion differed. In Damascus for example, 
the few Kurdish agha families controlling the al-Salhiyya and Hayy 
al-Akrad areas supported the central authority in Istanbul, keen to 
maintain the status quo and their consequent power and prosperity. 
Quietly opposing Syrian independence, the Kurdish agha class did 
not welcome the Arab Revolt of 1916. ffowever, not all Kurds in 
urban Syria shared this opinion and many supported both Ottoman 
decentralization and by 1918, Syrian independence. 

At this time, there existed no popular Arab or Kurdish nationalist 
movements or indeed sentiments, as politics remained an area for 
politicians and intellectuals. For the Kurds therefore, their public and 
political position was that laid out by the agha classes, owing to their 
influence and access to political circles and decision-making bodies. 2 
Given this it is perhaps conceivable that within ruling circles, the 
notion that the Kurds opposed Syrian independence and supported 
external, imperial powers had developed. 


28 The Kurds in Syria 


Despite attempts to assert its claim to independence, Syria fell 
victim to the Sykes-Picot-agreed partition of the Arab world into 
mandates and by July 1920, Syria was under French control. 3 The 
French sought to extend their power within Syria by preventing the 
potential upsurge in Arab nationalism and limiting the power of 
existing social and political groups. Using a divide and rule policy, 
supporting minority groups and decentralization to achieve these 
aims, the French originally intended to create a federal Syria based 
on three states of 'Alawis, Sunni Muslims and Christians. 

As ideas began to be implemented, the actual reality consisted 
of a Christian state being created in the Mount Lebanon area; the 
boundaries of which were expanded in 1926 to create Lebanon. By 
the end of 1926, the Christian state around Mt Lebanon had spread 
to the coast, incorporating Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre; to its 
east lay the valley of Beqaa, containing a predominantly Muslim 
population; and the remainder of Syria had been divided into five 
semi-autonomous areas along regional lines. These multiple divisions 
within Syrian society succeeded in isolating the Arab nationalists 
who sought to reunite Arabs into one state. 4 

French rule was overpowering on the Syrian population, with all 
aspects of society falling under French control. For the Kurds, relations 
with the French varied. Some tribes, particularly Christian and Aghas, 
supported the French, as the French policy of decentralization 
provided them with increased local power. 5 Other tribes rejected 
French rule, supporting Syrian independence movements alongside 
Arab tribes. French rule's main impact however, was on Kurdish 
opinion, which was particularly affected by the issues surrounding 
Mandate rule, independence and decentralization. These issues 
began to shape Kurdish thoughts regarding their future position 
and Kurdish national and political awareness began to increase, 
particularly with regard to ideas connecting people and their lands 
to legal and political rights and sovereignty. 

Despite this increased political and national awareness, and unlike 
the upsurge of Kurdish nationalism already beginning to appear in 
Turkey, Iran and Iraq, the Kurds in Syria were divided both between 
the different regions and between support and opposition to the 
French, which hindered the development of Kurdish nationalist 
political activity in Syria. It was not until 1927 that Xwebun, a 
Kurdish nationalist movement directed against the Turkish state, 

Syrian History: 1918-2005 29 

was established in Syria. Having assured the French that it would 
not incite ethnic or national tensions within Syria, Xwebun initially 
benefited from tacit French support within Syria. By 1928, in order 
to appease concerns amongst the Sunni Arab population of Syria, 
French support had waned and the movement was closed down, 
with accompanying restrictions on Kurdish cultural activities within 
Syria. Xwebun's activities had caused unrest among Arab nationalists 
within both Turkey and Syria, connecting Kurdish nationalism in 
both countries by association and increasing the tension between 
the Arabs and Kurds in Syria. Simultaneously, the movement allowed 
many Syrian Kurdish intellectuals to gain experience on issues such as 
Kurdish self-determination and oppression which could later be used 
in founding a Syrian Kurdish cultural and political movement. 

A further development of French rule involved 'Les Troupes Speciales 
de Levant', the Levantine Security Forces who were used for security 
purposes by the French. Drawing heavily from minority groups within 
Syria, including the Kurds, 'Alawi and Druze communities, the work 
carried out by Les Troupes in upholding French control affected the 
views held by the majority Syrian Arab population towards many 
minority groups; this further exacerbated ethnic and communal 
tensions within Syria. 

In 1936, the French installed a central Syrian Arab nationalist 
government, whilst continuing to support the administrative 
autonomy of areas such as Jabal Druze. In this way, the French 
both provided concessions to the majority Sunni Arab population, 
whilst influencing and dampening such powers through relations 
with minority groups, avoiding what the French perceived to be 
the threat of Arab nationalism. However, by 1937 there were many 
localized uprisings that occurred in protest at centralization of 
power and the domination of Damascene urban notables and elites 
over the government and the economy. For example, the 'Amude 
uprising in the Jazira was led by Kurdish and Christian leaders against 
the domination of Syria's central administration by Sunni Arabs. 
As a result of these uprisings, the French authorities promised to 
establish a special regime for the Jazira region; this took the form 
of French re-establishment of control. The area's autonomy from 
central government increased and with the support of the French, 
a number of Kurdish social and cultural organizations and clubs 
were established. 

All of these events contributed to the increased tension between 
the Syrian Sunni Arab community and the Kurdish community in 

30 The Kurds in Syria 

Syria. The consequence of partial Kurdish support for decentralization 
led the Arab majority to associate the Kurds with communal tension, 
separatism and threats to their control over central power. Meanwhile 
the Kurds, having been influenced by French support for local 
administration, became reluctant to cede power and cultural identity 
to a central Arab administration in Damascus. 


Following independence in 1946, Syria was initially governed by the 
Sunni leadership and merchant urban class, similar to during the 
French Mandate. These groups held a vested interest in maintaining 
the status quo, under which they held the majority of power and 
authority and thus a system similar to that of the Mandate continued 
for several years. The Syrian parliament was dominated by these groups 
who augmented their power by preserving relations with France. 

However, the traditional political elite failed to combat the 
negative aspects of a colonial past, and a mood of Arab nationalism 
and anti-imperialism began to spread through rural Syria. 6 Whilst 
industrialization brought benefit only to a small sector of the country, 
economic instability, inflation and unemployment had a huge impact 
within the urban and peasant population. 7 Politics began to fracture 
along regional lines and both communism and Arab nationalism 
increased in popularity, with parties such as the Communist Party of 
Syria and the Ba'th Party providing increased political mobilization 
for the marginalized minority and social groups. The ideals of 
democracy and the concept of capitalism were viewed with distrust 
due to their association with the previous ruling elite and also due 
to an increase in the popularity of Marxist ideology. 

Arab nationalism underwent a great boost in 1948 with the 
creation of the state of Israel and the ensuing war for Palestine. 
Influenced by Arab nationalism, Syrian rhetoric and foreign policy 
began to be dictated by anti-imperialism and the Palestinian question 
and the legitimacy of the previous political status quo within Syria 
was shattered. From 1948, Syria witnessed multiple military coups 
which swung the country from parliamentary rule to rule by decree 
to direct military rule and then back again. 8 Instead of the traditional 
parliamentary political system determining the country's leaders, 
the military assumed responsibility for regime change and members 
of the military became increasingly politically active. 9 Secular Arab 
nationalism seemed to offer the best potential to the new Syrian 

Syrian History: 1918-2005 31 

leaders, offering a solution to the religiously diverse population and 
helping to integrate religious minorities including the 'Alawi, Druze 
and Christians amongst others. However, as a national minority, the 
Kurds were an anomaly which the leaders found difficult to integrate 
into this new identity. 

Adib al-Shishakli conducted two coups in 1949 and 1951. In 
1953, he implemented a new constitution and declared martial law. 
His aim was to form a homogeneous Arab-Muslim state and one of 
the ways he sought to achieve this was by issuing multiple decrees 
restricting the use of languages other than Arabic. Despite his best 
efforts, even al-Shishakli admitted in 1953 that the borders of Syria 
were 'artificial frontiers drawn up by imperialism' which would 
account for the ethnic and sectarian mix within these boundaries. 10 
After his overthrow by a military coup in 1954, parliamentary rule 
was reinstated along with the constitution of 1950. Despite the new 
political and media freedom, Arabist sentiment continued to build 
among the population. 

This Arab nationalism spread across the Middle East in the mid- 
1950s, especially following the fall-out of the Suez War in 1955 and 
the Iraqi Revaluation in 1958. In 1952, Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser's Free 
Officers had staged a coup and gained control in Egypt and on 22 
February 1958, Syria, led by the then-ruling National Front, and 
Nasser's Egypt formed the United Arab Republic (UAR). Political 
parties within Syria were banned and Nasser dominated both 
countries' economic, social and political spheres. This union served 
only to increase Arab nationalist sentiment within Syria, placing the 
Kurds in a situation where both their national and cultural identity 
was threatened. At the same time, arrests and misinformation against 
the Kurds helped to form a perception of the Kurds during this period 
that continued to shape Syrian policy and public opinion for many 
years to come. 

During Nasser's UAR, Egyptian practices and policies were 
imposed on Syria. Land reform and redistribution programmes that 
had previously occurred in Egpyt began to occur in Syria. Political 
parties were banned, forcing opposition parties underground. Nasser 
launched campaigns against the Kurds and the communists. 11 Anti- 
Kurdish propaganda depicted the Kurds as traitors and separatists, 
linking Kurdish nationalism to Zionism and Western imperialism. 
Kurdish officers were removed from the military. Suppression even 
extended to Kurdish culture: Kurdish was prohibited and Kurdish 
publications were seized; and Kurdish music was forbidden and 

32 The Kurds in Syria 

recordings taken by the authorities; owners and distributors of 
publications and recordings were often arrested. 12 

Members of Kurdish political organizations also faced pressure. 
Established in 195 7, the Partiya Demokrat a Kurdistan - Suriye (al-Partt) 
expressed the desire for Kurdish representation and the advancement 
of Kurdish education and culture in order to counter the negative 
view of Kurds that was developing in the region. However, this 
development of Kurdish nationalism in Syria contradicted the goal 
of Arab unity sought by the Arab governments and fuelled suspicion 
over Kurdish intentions in Syria due to the inclusion of 'Kurdistan' 
in the party's name. In a 1960 crack-down on the Kurdish political 
movement, hundreds of members and associates of the Partiya 
Demokrat a Kurdistan - Suriye (al-Parti) were arrested. Leaders of the 
party were detained in Damascus's Mezzah prison and tried for 
membership of an illegal organization and for plotting to sever a 
part of Syrian territory. Soon after, the party changed its name to 
Partiya Demokrat Kurdi - Suriye (al-Parti) to avoid allegations that it 
advocated the establishment of a Kurdish state which included parts 
of Syrian territory. 13 

Anti-Kurdish sentiment increased during Nasser's rule due to the 
ongoing anti-Kurdish propaganda and the campaign of arrest and 
detention against Kurdish political activists. The 1961 uprising in 
Iraqi Kurdistan calling for autonomy, led by Mustafa Barzani and 
the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq also impacted on the Syrian 
perception of the Kurds. 14 Fears of a similar uprising in Syria, 
combined with the belief that Israeli sources had provided support 
to Mustafa Barzani's movement, fuelled concerns that Kurdish 
groups within Syria could be influenced by foreign interference and 
provide information on Syria's domestic affairs to foreign powers. 
These concerns led to the perception that the Kurds posed a threat 
to Syria's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity. 

On 28 September 1961, the United Arab Republic was ended by 
Lieutenant-Colonel 'Abd al-Karim Nahalawi in a right-wing coup 
backed by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Syrian business community. 15 
The subsequent declaration of Syria as the Syrian Arab Republic struck 
a blow to Kurdish hopes for national recognition and equality among 
the various minority groups within Syria. From then, a renewed 
campaign of misinformation against the Kurds commenced as part 
of the Arabization programme within Syria to ensure Arabs formed 
the majority of the Syrian population. 

Syrian History: 1918-2005 33 


On 23 August 1962, the Syrian government issued Legislative Decree 
Number 93, ordering an exceptional census to be conducted in al- 
Hasakeh province of north-eastern Syria in just one day. The need 
for a census came from concerns by the Syrian authorities about the 
number of Kurds that had entered Syria from Turkey since the end of 
the Second World War. Many Kurds had fled or migrated from Turkey 
and Iraq in the 1920s to escape persecution by the authorities in the 
two states and had settled in Mandate Syria. Kurds were also believed 
to have migrated to the Jazira for economic reasons and others were 
believed by the Syrian authorities to have acquired Syrian identity 
documents illegally. The census was intended to differentiate between 
those who had a right to Syrian citizenship, those who had not and 
those who had acquired it illegally. 

The inhabitants of al-Hasakeh province received no prior warning 
that a census would be conducted, nor were they given any indication 
of its consequences. Government representatives went from door 
to door through Kurdish towns and villages, demanding that the 
inhabitants prove their residency in Syria before 1945 by providing 
one or all of the following three documents: a Syrian identity card; a 
'family card'; and land deeds that showed ownership and residency 
before 1945. 

At the time of the census, the system of land ownership and 
occupation in the al-Hasakeh region was traditionally based, with 
Kurdish landowners owning most of the land on which Kurdish 
farmers lived and worked. Consequently although the farmers had 
rights to the land they worked on and many could have been assumed 
to own the land that they worked, they held no land deeds. As the 
only form of documentation available to them, many farmers used 
sheep tax receipts to try and prove that they had lived on that land 
prior to 1945. However, the importance that these documents and 
receipts would prove to have had never occurred to the Kurdish 
farmers and many had not retained proof of sheep tax payments 
dating back more than 17 years. 

Aside from the difficulties of actually proving proof of residency in 
Syria prior to 1945 within one day, many Kurds deliberately avoided 
participating in the census to avoid conscription into the Syrian 
army. 16 The Syrian authorities never provided an explanation for the 
census to those whom it involved, thus the urgency of registration 
was lost. 

34 The Kurds in Syria 

As a result of the census, Kurds were placed into one of three 

i) Kurds who could prove their Syrian citizenship; 

ii) Kurds who had their Syrian citizenship removed were registered 
by the Syrian authorities as 'foreign' ( ajnabi , pi. ajanib). Kurds 
in the Jazira region were generally considered to be migrants 
and illegal immigrants and through the census, thousands were 
officially registered as ajanib; 

iii) Kurds who did not take part in the census were regarded as 
'unregistered' ( maktoum , pi maktoumeen) even if they already 
held Syrian citizenship. 

Overnight, between 120,000 and 150,000 Kurds were stripped of 
Syrian citizenship. 17 


In November 1963, head of internal security for al-Hasakeh province, 
Lt Muhammad Talab Hilal, published a confidential report entitled 
'Study of the National Social and Political Aspects of the Province 
of Jazira' ( Dirasat 'an Muhafizat al-Jazira min al-Nawahi al-Qaqmiyya 
wa-l-Ijtima'iyya wa'l-Siyasiyya) . In the report, Hilal likened the Kurds 
to a malignant tumour that had developed in the body of the Arab 
nation and proposed their excision from the region through a twelve- 
point plan, consisting of: 

• The displacement of the Kurds from their lands; 

• The denial of education to the Kurds; 

• The return of 'wanted' Kurds to Turkey; 

• The denial of employment opportunities to Kurds; 

• An anti-Kurdish propaganda campaign; 

• The replacement of local Kurdish religious clerics with Arab 

• A 'divide and rule' policy within the Kurdish community; 

• The Arab settlement of Kurdish areas; 

• The establishment of an Arab cordon sanitaire along the border 
with Turkey; 

• The establishment of collective farms for Arab settlers; 

• The denial of the right to vote or hold office to anyone lacking 

Syrian History: 1918-2005 35 

• The denial of Syrian citizenship to non-Arabs wishing to live 
in the area. 18 

Although the government allege that Hilal's report was an independent 
report that was never endorsed nor adopted as official policy, many of 
the problems facing Kurds can be found in the twelve points above. 
The denial of nationality had already begun with the 1962 census in 
al-Hasakeh province; and in 1973 the government began to create an 
'Arab Belt' along the border with Turkey. Later chapters discussing the 
Kurds' civil, political and cultural rights provide other examples of 
the twelve points being implemented in practice. Although actions 
taken by the Syrian government may indeed be independent of Hilal's 
report, the parallels of state policy towards the Kurds and Hilal's 
proposals are striking. 


Following secession from the United Arab Republic in 1961, Syria 
again underwent a series of power struggles between the government 
and military and also between Ba'thist and Nasserist elements of the 
military. These struggles culminated in 1963 with the seizure of power 
by the officer corps representing the Syrian Arab Ba'th Party. 

The Syrian Ba'th Party was based on a combination of principles: 
ideologies that sought socialist reform of the political system; 
ideologies that sought an end to foreign imperialist powers interfering 
within Syria; and nationalist principles seeking the unification of 
Arab states. The Ba'th Party sought to represent rural Syrians, many of 
whom had joined the army and graduated to the officer corps and had 
found in the army a chance to escape poverty and marginalization. 19 
One of these groups, the 'Alawi minority, saw huge numbers of its 
youth joining the army and then the Ba'th Party. 20 Over time the 
Ba'th Party became disproportionately dominated by the 'Alawi. 

For the first time in many years, Syrian politics were no longer 
dominated by the previous Sunni elite urban classes and were instead 
run by the military and rural lower classes. 21 However, the Sunni 
urban elite and middle classes did not accept defeat immediately, 
providing opposition to the Ba'th Party's rise to power. Internal power 
struggles within the Ba'thist Party also dominated the initial shift 
in power. 22 Salah Bitar and Michael 'Aflaq, founders and leaders of 
the Ba'th Party for several years, were displaced by a leftist group of 
military and civilian Ba'thists in an internal 1966 coup led by Salah 

36 The Kurds in Syria 

Jadid, Hafiz al-Asad and Muhammad 'Umran. 23 Another struggle 
between Salah Jadid representing the Regional Command of the Ba'th 
Party, and Hafiz al-Asad representing the Military Committee of the 
Party, ended on 16 November 1970 when Hafiz al-Asad took control, 
removing the powers from the civilian section of the Party in the 
process. 24 Following al-Asad's coup, the Syrian political system was 
completely restructured to ensure its political stability and security. 


During the era of the United Arab Republic, Nasser introduced a policy 
of land redistribution, removing land from the grip of large land- 
owners and passing it into the hands of the farming peasantry. This 
policy was an imitation of Nasser's existing Egyptian land reforms, 
aimed at limiting land ownership and ensuring an equitable division 
of wealth. Following Syria's secession from the UAR in 1961 the 
Ba'th Party upheld this policy, although it was not initially applied 
in the Jazira region which contained many large estates. The Jazira 
region was also the location of the 1962 Hasakeh census, which 
had significantly altered the official Kurdish population in the area 
causing it to no longer form a majority. 

Following the breakup of the UAR, political instability caused 
frequent changes and delays in intended agrarian reform laws. 
Once the Ba'th Party gained control, agrarian reform became a 
major government priority and implementation of the reform was 
accelerated. 25 In 1965, the Ba'th Party expanded the land reform 
policy into the Arab Belt policy. Under this new policy, a military 
cordon was to be created along the Syrian-Turkish border and the 
Syrian-Iraqi border, much of which was contained in the Jazira region 
of Syria. This cordon was to be approximately 10-15 kilometres deep 
and 375 kilometres long. This new policy was implemented by Hafiz 
al-Asad in 1973 upon completion of the Tabqa Dam. 

The authorities initially ordered families in Kurdish villages 
along the Syria-Turkey-Iraq border area to leave their homes and 
resettle in other interior regions of Syria that did not traditionally 
contain Kurdish populations. The authorities then began to move 
Arab families, who themselves had been displaced by the building 
of the Tabqa Dam and Lake Asad, into the areas vacated by the 
Kurds, effectively changing the demographic makeup of the Jazira 
and surrounding regions. Villages containing up to 200 homes were 
built to house the relocated Arabs in areas traditionally inhabited by 

Syrian History: 1918-2005 37 

Kurds. 26 Human Rights Watch reports that homes and agricultural 
provisions were offered at heavily subsidized rates to Arab migrants 
along with agricultural loans; as a result many Arabs were persuaded 
to move to the Jazira region. In the words of a Kurdish engineer 
interviewed by Human Rights Watch, 

The government built them homes for free, gave them weapons, 
seeds and fertilizer, and created agricultural banks that provided 
loans. From 1973 to 1975, forty-one villages were created in this 
strip, beginning ten kilometers west of Ras al-'Ayn. The idea was to 
separate Turkish and Syrian Kurds, and to force Kurds in the area 
to move away to the cities. Any Arab could settle in Hasakeh, but 
no Kurd was permitted to move and settle there. 27 

In contrast to the Kurdish villages that had been denied basic 
services including electricity, water supplies and adequate roads, the 
new villages contained all necessary facilities. Once land was given 
to Arab migrants, it is reported that many Arab owners did not use 
the land or relied on Kurdish workers to maintain the land. 28 

These demographic changes did not occur without protest. In one 
of the many villages along the Arab Belt, the Kurdish inhabitants 
were a mixture of Syrian citizens and ajanib Kurds who had their 
land expropriated in 1973. During a 1986 demonstration, the 
Kurdish protestors clashed with the new Arab inhabitants of the 
village and a young Kurdish girl was killed. Several Kurdish protesters 
were arrested. 29 

The Jazira region in which the land reforms took place is the primary 
cotton and wheat producing region in Syria. Oil reserves had also 
been discovered there. The economic value of the region is believed to 
be a key reason for implementation of the land reforms and creation 
of the Arab Belt, with the Syrian authorities being concerned about 
Kurdish domination of such resources. Within northern Iraq, a large 
Kurdish population existed around oil-rich Kirkuk. A similar policy of 
moving Arabs into Kurdish areas to alter the ethnic demographics and 
reduce Kurdish domination of economically important geographic 
areas was also implemented both by the monarchy in the 1930s and 
later by the Ba'th Party. 30 

By the end of 1969, 1.374 million hectares of irrigated and non- 
irrigated agricultural land had been expropriated. According to official 
statistics, the following amounts of land were expropriated in each of 
Syria's provinces: 462,200 hectares in al-Hasakeh; 289,900 hectares 

38 The Kurds in Syria 

in Aleppo; 164,000 hectares in al Raqqa; 147,700 in Homs; 110,000 
hectares in Hama; 83,000 in Idlib province; 62,000 in Damascus; 
17,500 in Deir al-Zur; and less than 10,500 hectares in each of the 
remaining provinces. As these figures show, the predominantly 
Kurdish province of al-Hasakeh underwent the largest expropriation 
of land and surrounding northern provinces also saw more land 
expropriation than southern provinces. 31 

This expropriated land was intended to be redistributed amongst 
the rural population so that each beneficiary would not own more 
than 8 hectares of irrigated land or 45 hectares of non-irrigated land. 
Redistributed land could not be sold or rented and beneficiaries were 
required to work the land themselves. 32 

These land reforms had an overall negative impact. While those 
with traditional farming experience were able to work their land and 
benefit financially by not having to pay large landholders, those with 
little agricultural experience faced difficulties. Individuals with non- 
irrigated land struggled to provide for their family and instead had 
to seek alternative employment to support them. These problems in 
turn affected overall agricultural output in Syria. 33 

This movement of Kurds and Arabs with the result of altering 
the demographic makeup of a region bears a striking resemblance 
to points eight and nine of Lt Muhammad Talab Hilal's report. The 
movement also resulted in the effective separation and isolation 
of many Syrian Kurds from their counterparts in Turkey and Iraq, 
although it is arguable that a key reason for implementing the Arab 
Belt to separate Syria from Turkey and Iraq was due to conflict over 
water and a desire to pre-empt interference from Turkey or Iraq. 


An 'Alawi military officer from Lataqiyya region, Hafiz al-Asad 
became commander of the Syrian Air Force in 1964 and was later 
made Minister of Defence in 1966 during Ba'th Party rule. Following 
his initial coup in 1970, al-Asad succeeded in retaining strict control 
over Syria until his death in 2000. 34 Today, his legacy can be seen 
throughout Syria in the streets and buildings named after him and 
the multiple images and memorials of al-Asad in every city. During 
his rule, al-Asad dominated the government, parliament, the Ba'th 
Party and civil society and made Syria in his own image, defining 
himself as father of Syria and an Arab hero who commanded the 
loyalty of his subjects. 

Syrian History: 1918-2005 39 

Upon first assuming power, Hafiz al-Asad was seen by many as the 
antithesis of the previously unwanted regimes that had controlled 
Syria. 35 Instead, al-Asad redefined the nature of his Ba'th Party, the 
state and national institutions to consolidate his power and remove 
any challenge to his leadership, ensuring he could rule over Syria with 
an iron grip. He abandoned much of the extreme socialist language 
previously adopted by the Ba'th Party and instead sought to establish 
a broader support base with economic and political liberalizations. 36 
State institutions were expanded, professionalized and consolidated 
and all domestic politics were moved within al-Asad's control. This 
power enabled him to establish Syria as a serious regional player 
rather than the object of stronger states' interests. 37 

In doing this, Hafiz al-Asad was cautious and prudent in his 
decision making, seeking to avoid taking risks both domestically 
and in the arena of foreign affairs. Knowing that his power depended 
on continuing loyalty from 'Alawi military supporters, he placed 
key supporters and family members in strategic positions within 
the military and the regime. To avoid allegations of sectarianism, al- 
Asad incorporated the Sunni majority and other minorities into the 
Ba'th Party and the government. However, al-Asad's personal ideals 
were Arabist in nature; he believed that Israel had humiliated Syria 
and other Arab countries in 1967. His foreign policy was affected 
by this belief, and one of his priorities was in strengthening the 
Arab countries' military positions in the struggle against Israel, 
despite the initial negative impact on his domestic goal of socialist 
transformation. Having obtained power largely on the concepts of 
national unity and Arab nationalism, al-Asad continued to use Arabist 
credentials and rhetoric. This deepened national divisions within 
Syria, especially between the Arabs and Kurds, causing the Kurds to 
be defined as a threat to national unity. 


Immediately following Hafiz al-Asad's death on 10 June 2000, the 
Syrian Constitution was amended such that the minimum age of 
presidential candidates became 34 instead of the previous 40. Bashar 
al-Asad, Hafiz's 34-year-old son, was nominated for the presidency 
soon after. A month later, on 10 July 2000, Bashar al-Asad was elected 
as Syria's president for a seven-year term following an unopposed 
referendum in which official statistics state that he obtained 97.29 
per cent of the votes cast. 

40 The Kurds in Syria 

The assumption had always been that Bashar's older brother Basil 
al-Asad would become president after Hafiz and indeed, Basil had 
been groomed for many years by Hafiz to be ready for this succession. 
Basil's unexpected death in 1994 shifted Bashar into the position 
of key contender for the presidency. 38 Bashar had previously been 
living in London, pursuing a medical career and studying to become 
an ophthalmologist, when his career underwent a dramatic shift 
towards Syrian politics. Given his background, many in the West were 
hopeful of change and democratic reform, especially since Bashar had 
received limited military training, unlike his father and earlier Syrian 
leaders. Despite this external pressure for reform, little liberalization 
has been witnessed. What liberalization has occurred has been slow 
and mainly confined to Syria's economy. Little change has been seen 
within the political sphere, although whether the responsibility for 
stifling political reform lies with the staunch defenders of Hafiz al- 
Asad's executive policies or with Bashar himself is not yet clear. 

Following Bashar al-Asad's inauguration, the inconsistencies 
between Syrian policy and domestic reform were rationalized as 
showing the power struggle between the 'old guard' and reformist 
'new guard' with theories suggesting that Bashar was constrained by 
the 'old guard' who sought to retain their privileges and power. Over 
time, the view that Bashar's commitment to pan-Arab ideology is 
greater than suspected has begun to develop, particularly amongst the 
US administration. 39 However, an attempt to draw clear distinctions 
between an 'old' and 'new' guard is difficult because many of the 
interests of these groups overlap, thus trying to provide simple 
theories to explain the lack of political reform is unhelpful. 40 

Bashar himself, although educated in the West, received his 
political education from an entirely Ba'thist standpoint and holds a 
position of power that is dependent upon the regime which produced 
him. 41 At the same time, he is aware that economic reform has an 
inevitable effect on the stability of the state and the longevity of 
the regime. 42 Whether Bashar balances the different considerations 
and concludes that political reform is necessary remains to be seen, 
although increasing pressure for reform both internally and from 
external sources may assist him in drawing his conclusion. 

Bashar al-Asad's inaugural speech indicated intent to reconcile the 
government and opposition, 43 and Bashar soon granted hitherto 
unseen levels of freedom of assembly to political activities and 
supporters. 44 But when Syrian opposition leaders and supporters 
attempted to benefit from this new freedom by holding discussions 

Syrian History: 1918-2005 41 

and debates that were often critical of the regime, Bashar's political 
authority was tested severely. 


In early 2000, a civil society movement emerged that came to be 
known as the 'Damascus Spring'. 45 Political reform was encouraged 
though civil forums that were held in many places including private 
homes. Their hosts consisted of party leaders, members of parliament, 
journalist, lawyers, academics, businessmen, artists and philosophers, 
all of whom spoke on the need for political, economic and human 
rights reform and the underlying need for an autonomous civil 
society within Syria. 46 Independent human rights groups reopened, 
the Kurdish Jeladet Bedrakhan Cultural Association established itself 
in Qamishli and several hundred political prisoners were released up 
to May 2001. Hopeful of a newly free and open political system which 
could steer the country towards democracy, petitions were circulated 
and sent to the government, calling for reforms. 47 

By mid-2001, Bashar had responded. As early as March 2001, the 
Bedrakhan Cultural Association was closed and many of its members 
arrested. 48 Pioneers of the civil society movement were arrested along 
with other prominent human rights activists. Since then, many other 
activists have been arrested and civil forums in peoples' homes were 
declared illegal. 49 

Following elections for the people's Assembly in March 2003, 
Bashar al-Asad made a speech to open the new Assembly, delineating 
more clearly what he mean by the reform discussed in his inaugural 
speech. Bashar explained that the opposition had misunderstood 
his reference to democracy to mean freedom from control and 
morality, which was damaging to the national interest. Making clear 
that such activity would not be tolerated, Bashar set clear limits on 
future reform, indicating that reform will happen according to the 
authorities and not the people. 


On 12 March 2004, a football match in Qamishli, a town in northern 
Syria, set in motion a series of events from which many Kurds are still 
facing repercussions today. The buildup to the match, held between 
a local team and a team from Deiz Azour, involved the chanting 
of slogans with political connotations, which increased tension 

42 The Kurds in Syria 

between supporters of both teams. Clashes eventually broke out and 
the security forces, instead of using tear gas and water hoses to dispel 
those fighting, intervened by opening lire on the unarmed supporters, 
killing at least seven Kurds and wounding many others as a result. 

On 13 March 2004, funerals were held for those killed the previous 
day. Thousands of people attended, chanting political slogans and 
carrying Kurdish flags and pictures of Kurdish leaders to express 
their anger at what had occurred. Clashes broke out between these 
demonstrators and the police who again opened fire, killing and 
injuring more people and serving only to further increase people's 
agitation; this was then expressed by the vandalizing of buildings. 
People injured during these clashes were initially taken to several 
public and private hospitals in Qamishli for treatment, but were 
later transferred under police escort and held under intensive guard 
in the National ffospital. Despite requests from families to return the 
injured to private hospitals, only two people were in fact permitted 
to be transferred. 

Following these incidents, dozens of Kurds living in Qamishli 
were arrested, regardless of whether they had been present at the 
demonstrations. Some of those arrested were children, including a 
17-year-old who was released after nine days suffering from injuries 
reportedly sustained by torture. Even in April 2004, random arrests 
in Qamishli were still being reported. 50 

The unrest in Qamishli spread to other towns along the northern 
border of Syria, and also to Damascus and Aleppo. Between 12 and 
13 March, Damascus University students demonstrated repeatedly 
against the events of Qamishli; on each occasion the police used 
force to try and stop the demonstration, causing students to 
respond. Hundreds of students were arrested both during and after 
the demonstrations and later expelled from the University. In the 
Wadie A1 Mushareer area of Damascus, where a demonstration had 
also turned violent following police intervention, a meeting was held 
to try and reduce tension; instead, within hours of the meeting, 650 
Kurds had been arrested. 51 

In total, at least 30 people were killed and 160 injured. 52 Despite 
relative calm having been restored to the region, the events served 
as a stark reminder of the significance of the Kurdish question to the 
Syrian government. Although comments by the government since 
March 2004 have suggested that the state will be more accommodating 
towards the Kurds, practical moves have yet to be made and Kurdish 
political and cultural activities are still affected. 53 


Syrian State Structure 


Article 1 of the Syrian Constitution describes Syria as a 'democratic, 
popular, socialist and sovereign state'. However, many facets of Syrian 
politics contradict this concept, as will be seen in this chapter. 

Access to political power in Syria is highly selective, due to wasta, an 
Arabic term for personal connections. Syrian politics is underpinned 
by an intricate vertical patronage network and gaining admittance to 
this network requires connections to influential individuals or access 
to money with which to obtain influence and favours. 

This concept of patronage has permeated throughout Syrian society, 
so that access to state benefits, employment, subsidies and other 
aspects of daily life often depends on an individual developing the 
appropriate connections. Although in theory anybody can develop 
such connections and benefit both socially and economically by 
gaining access to decision makers, access to such a network requires 
demonstrating loyalty to the Ba'th ideology and regime. The existence 
of social and economic benefits associated with showing such loyalty 
creates a disincentive to represent interests other than those approved 
by the Ba'thists and thus ensuring representation of minority groups 
such as the Kurds is difficult. 

It is also impossible to speak of Syrian politics without referral 
to the military. Since Hafiz al-Asad's coup which he referred to as 
a 'Corrective Movement' in 1970, 1 mainstream politics has been 
permanently linked to the military. Coming from the military, al- 
Asad was able to ensconce the military firmly within Syrian politics 
at the expense of the civilian section of the Ba'th Party and military 
personnel now dominate the Party. Al-Asad then concentrated on 
strengthening and expanding the military, creating a new group of 
Syrians with a personal interest in maintaining the status quo. The 
military thus came to represent a means to an end for those seeking 
a rise in personal status or for minority group members seeking 
protection from the Sunni majority. 

In strengthening the military, Hafiz al-Asad placed loyal and 
predominantly 'Alawi officers in strategic positions within both the 


44 The Kurds in Syria 

armed forces and Syrian intelligence. This policy insured al-Asad 
against further military coups and reduced future threats to the 
regime. In doing this, Hafiz al-Asad finally achieved what others 
had attempted ever since the first military coup of 1949 - to stabilize 
and neutralize the military, preventing it from posing the constant 
threat to regime change that it had posed until 1970. Crediting al- 
Asad with the stabilization of Syria's political climate cannot however 
occur without noting the cost of this achievement: the military and 
intelligence services provide much of the regime's domestic controls 
and the brutality of both institutions has been starkly displayed on 
many occasions. 

In the 1970s, a variety of factors contributed to a building unrest 
within Syria. The opposition occurred due to the state of the Syrian 
economy, the 1976 invasion of Lebanon by Syrian forces and the 
increasing belief that the Ba'th Party was a predominantly 'Alawi 
faction. Marxists, communists, professionals and human rights 
activists began to contest Ba'th Party rule, as did the Syrian Muslim 
Brotherhood. The Ba'th regime worked to suppress uprisings and 
increasingly targeted the Muslim Brotherhood, passing Law No. 49 
on 7 July 1980, according to which mere membership of the Muslim 
Brotherhood warranted a death sentence. 

On 27 July 1980, hundreds of detained Brotherhood members 
were killed in a military attack on Tadmur Prison. On 2 February 
1982, Syrian forces were dispersed to the city of Hama, a known 
stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. After laying siege to the city 
with artillery and shelling, armed and special forces then stormed 
through the city, ransacking property and punishing civilians. 2 After 
27 days, thousands of citizens had been killed and thousands more 
made homeless due to the destruction of a third of the city. Women, 
children and the elderly were among the victims. 3 

This display of military force appears to have occurred with the 
full support of al-Asad's government. According to the Syrian Human 
Rights Committee, the campaign against Hama was led by Rifa'at 
Asad, younger brother to Hafiz al-Asad who became martial ruler 
of northern and central districts of Syria two months earlier. 4 Such 
a clear demonstration of force was highly effective in silencing the 
burgeoning political opposition. The use of such a level of violence 
has not been seen again, although it has been used to a lesser extent 
to subdue sectarian discord. During the March 2004 protests in 
Qamishli, the use of force resulted in the death of approximately 30 
Kurds and the detention of hundreds more. 5 

Syrian State Structure 45 

Following the events of Hama, al-Asad further increased the size 
of the Syrian military, forming multiple groups with the task of 
gathering intelligence. These often-competing groups control all 
aspects of movement and society, effectively restricting freedom of 
expression by instilling a fear within the general population of being 
informed on and the possible consequences. 

The Syrian Arab Socialist Ba'th Party 

The Ba'th Party has been the ruling party in Syria since 1963, although 
it was established in 1947. Its socialist, secular nature attracted 
previously marginalized sections of Syrian society, particularly 
minority groups and its accompanying Arab ideology was welcomed 
by them. Unlike traditional methods of obtaining political power, 
the Party followed a method of recruiting support from minority 
groups and building up its military strength through these groups. 
Its membership of a few hundred in 1963 grew to 8,000 by 1966 and 
65,000 by 1971. By 1992, membership was estimated at 1 million. 6 
This growth in membership may be due to the popularity of the 
Party or a simple reflection of the fact that membership offers many 
political and financial privileges. Anybody can join the Ba'th Party, on 
condition that they accept the goal of Arab unity. For many minority 
groups, the compromise on their ethnic identity is often worth the 
political support and additional benefits they obtain upon joining. 

The Ba'th Party slogan, today found in the Constitution, is 'Unity, 
freedom, and socialism'. 'Unity' stands more specifically for 'Arab 
unity' and according to the Constitution the Party is dedicated to 
taking all necessary steps to achieve decentralized administration for 
all Arab states together with the administration of individual states 
by regional commands of the Ba'th Party itself. 7 

The reorganization of the Party in 1970 saw collective leadership 
replaced by an individual leader, Hafiz al-Asad. The changed structure 
requires that policy decisions are taken by the President and his key 
officials and then circulated throughout both the Party leadership 
and the national party membership. 8 

The Ba'th Party retains control of all Syrian political institutions. 
Under Article 8 of the Constitution, it is the leading party of the 
Republic and is responsible for directing the Progressive National 
Front in serving the interests of the Arab nation. The remaining 
parties within the Progressive National Front hold a limited political 
mandate, effectively freeing the Ba'th Party from competition. 
Within the Syrian Cabinet, membership is dominated by Ba'th 
Party ministers. 

46 The Kurds in Syria 

Ba'th Party Regional Command 

The Regional Command is the political leadership of the Party, 
although much of its former power has been lost to the President and 
government. 9 The Regional Command is responsible for proposing 
the candidate for presidency to the Syrian parliament. 10 

Ba'th Party National Command 

The National Command is the pan-Arab leadership of the Party. 
Technically, the National Command occupies a higher position than 
the Regional Command, but in practice, the National Command has 
become a subordinate to the Regional Command, representing little 
more than an 'honorary board'. 11 

The President of the Republic 

Under Article 83 of the original Constitution, candidates for the 
Presidency of the Republic must be an Arab Syrian over the age of 40, 
although following the death of Hafiz al-Asad, the age requirement 
dropped to 34; conveniently, this was the precise age of Bashar 
al Asad. 

Presidential elections are ordered by the People's Assembly 
following a proposal by the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party Regional 
Command and to win the election, a candidate requires an absolute 
majority of the votes. 12 As official statistics are not published to show 
the proportion of voter turnout during presidential elections, it is 
impossible to know whether 3, 50 or 99 per cent of the voting-age 
population actually turned out to cast their votes for Hafiz or Bashar 
al-Asad in recent years. If only 3 per cent of the population turned 
out to vote and all voted for the sole candidate standing for election, 
it is difficult to see how this truly meets the concept of a democratic 
absolute majority vote. 

The Constitution states that a President then rules for a term of 
seven years. However, Article 71 of the Constitution states that the 
People's Assembly are responsible for nominating candidates to 
stand for the Presidency: as will be seen, all actions of the People's 
Assembly are governed by the Ba'th Party and thus the nominations 
are also governed by the Ba'th Party. As nobody has actually stood 
in opposition to Hafiz or Bashar al-Asad since the 1970 Corrective 
Movement, the concept that a President only runs for seven years 
before competing against others to return to power does not hold 
true. In reality, the accession of Hafiz al-Asad's son seems to represent 
a hereditary republic more than it does a democratic one: instead of 

Syrian State Structure 47 

succession being decided by properly democratic elections, it appears 
to have followed a dynastic line . 13 

The President of the Republic holds wide ranging powers. He 
can appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, his deputies and other 
ministers. He appoints and dismisses civilian and military officials . 14 
The President can also form specialized organizations, councils, and 
committees and specify their powers and jurisdiction. Furthermore, 
the President has the power to dissolve the People's Assembly . 15 

The President assumes responsibility for ensuring respect of the 
Constitution, the orderly functioning of public authorities, the 
preservation of the state and the exercising of executive authority 
on behalf of the people. In consultation with the Cabinet, he lays 
down the state's general policy and supervises its implementation . 16 
The President promulgates laws approved by the People's Assembly 
and can veto these laws; he also issues decrees, decisions and orders in 
accordance with legislation . 17 In the interim period between People's 
Assemblies, the President assumes legislative authority and is not 
required to refer any of the legislation issued during this period to 
the next People's Assembly . 18 

The President is the supreme commander of the armed forces and 
is responsible for declaring and terminating a state of emergency 
within Syria . 19 In situations threatening national unity, the safety 
and independence of the homeland or situations obstructing state 
institutions from carrying out their constitutional responsibilities, 
the President can take immediate measures necessitated by these 
circumstances. In addition, if it is necessary in order to safeguard 
the country's national interests or the requirements of national 
security, the President can assume legislative authority although 
any legislation passed must be referred to the People's Assembly in 
its first session . 20 

The Council of Ministers / Cabinet 

This consists of the Council President, his deputies and ministers, 
all of whom are responsible to the President of the Republic . 21 The 
Council supervises the execution of laws and regulations and the 
work of state institutions. It assists the President of the Republic in 
drawing up and carrying out the state's policy. Among other tasks, 
the Cabinet also prepares draft laws, follows up the enforcement of 
laws, ensures state security and issues executive and administrative 
decisions in accordance with laws and regulations . 22 

48 The Kurds in Syria 

Majlis al-sha'ab: the Syrian Parliament or People's Assembly 23 

The first People's Assembly was appointed by Hafiz al-Asad in 1971 
and the first elections were held in 1973. Since then, elections have 
been held every four years by secret ballot. 24 According to Article 52 
of the Constitution, Assembly members represent the people and 
their mandate must not be restricted. Each member of the Assembly 
must take the oath specified in Article 7. 25 

Unlike a normal parliament which would be expected to carry out 
decision making, legislative functions and policy-related work, the 
Syrian People's Assembly carries out little more than a consultative 
role. 26 The Assembly is responsible for nominating the President of 
the Republic, approval of the laws, debate of cabinet policy, approval 
of budget and development plans, approval of international treaties 
and agreements, approval of general amnesty, acceptance or rejection 
of member resignations and the withholding of confidence in the 
Cabinet or a minister. 27 This is an extremely narrow mandate in 
comparison to that assigned to the executive and means that in 
practical terms, the Ba'th Party is the main decision-making body 
in Syria. 

The number of members in the Assembly increased from 195 to 
250 deputies in 1990, of which approximately one third of seats are 
reserved for independent candidates and the remainder for parties 
within the Progressive National Front. 

The Progressive National Front 

Upon obtaining control of Syria, one of the Ba'th Party's main 
tactics for neutralizing political rivals was to create the Progressive 
National Front (PNF, or the Front) and designate it as the official 
area of Syrian politics. Parties that comprise the PNF are the only 
parties legally permitted to exist in Syria. To join the PNF, a party 
was required to accept the Ba'th Party programme, and as leader of 
the Front, the Ba'th Party ensured it was guaranteed a majority in all 
its bodies. 28 Today, the Progressive National Front comprises seven 
parties including the Ba'th Party. 

The PNF has a variety of tasks and aims. In furtherance of Article 
8 of the Syrian Constitution, the Front mobilizes the capacity of the 
masses in order to further objectives of the Arab nation. The Front 
aims to liberate occupied Arab territories, decide on questions of war 
and peace and to formulate economic, social, cultural, political and 
military plans for Syria. The Front must also further the cultural, social 

Syrian State Structure 49 

and political development of Syrian citizens. The Front is responsible 
for establishing a system of popular democracy with constitutional 
institutions and local councils, in order to ensure the full sovereignty 
of the people. The Front is tasked with development of the democratic 
structure of popular and occupational organizations, by providing 
them with all possible means to play their role in ensuring the 
people's control over executive organs. Finally, the PNF approves 
Ba'th Party five-year plans . 29 

By accepting Ba'th Party ideology and policy in order to join 
the PNF, it is difficult to see that any of the seven parties are truly 
independent. In Volker Perthes' words, 

The front stands for a system that basically denies the existence of 
political conflict, and thereby restricts the chances for their political 
settlement by competition, that is, open debate, negotiation and 
compromise . 30 

Perthes considers that only two of the parties within the PNF are 
truly political parties in their own right: the Syrian Communist Party 
(SCP) and the Ba'th Party itself. 

Until legislative changes, all members of the People's Assembly 
were also members of a PNF party, with a majority of Assembly 
members being from the Ba'th Party; now one third of Assembly 
seats are reserved for independent candidates . 31 This body cannot 
initiate laws or make policy decisions, but its views on economic 
matters are considered by policy-makers. 

Beyond the Progressive National Front, the existence of any 
other political party is forbidden by law. Activity by illegal parties is 
generally tolerated if the party ideology and political views do not 
openly conflict with Ba'th policy and if party activities remain in the 
private sphere. Although independent candidates can now run for 
election to the People's Assembly, any potential candidate must be 
approved by the authorities , 32 requiring that they do not challenge 
the Ba'th Party ideology or abstain from promoting any agenda other 
than that endorsed by the Ba'th Party. 

The Syrian Ba'th Party has been extremely successful in the 
neutralization of rivals both by forcing them to accept Ba'th ideology 
and by fragmenting party membership through the auspices of the 
PNF. Instead of parties combining to challenge the Ba'th political 
agenda, loyalties are divided and internal dissent makes it difficult 
to form a coherent opposition. 

50 The Kurds in Syria 

Popular organizations 

Under Ba'th Party rule popular organizations, which many people 
join in order to find employment, have sprung up throughout 
Syria. 33 Such organizations include the Trade Union, Peasants 
Union, Women's Union, the National Union of Students and the 
Revolutionary Youth Organisation. These organisations are under 
Ba'th Party authority, forming part of the Syrian hierarchical state 
system and providing a method by which the Party can control 
and enforce loyalty to the state. 34 The popular organizations were 
brought under the authority of the Ba'th Party in 1976, following 
the general unrest of the 1970s during which several organizations 
became involved with democracy activists. 


The combination of several events in the 1980s led to economic 
crisis for Syria. Oil prices plummeted due to a worldwide glut in 
production, both reducing Syria's export revenues but also reducing 
the financial aid given to them by other oil-rich countries. In the 
agricultural sector, a severe ten-year drought had caused devastation 
to the industry. Finally, as the Cold War began to wind down, so did 
the economic aid that Syria had formerly been receiving from the 
Soviet Union. 

This crisis made it clear that a more investor-friendly business 
environment was required in Syria, in order to attract foreign 
investment and repair the economy. Several decrees were passed 
between 1985 and 1991 which were designed to increase foreign 
investment, provide more freedom to the private sector and clamp 
down on corruption. 

However, the liberalization and stabilization that al-Asad intended 
to achieve by such decrees was selective. Al-Asad knew that if he 
permitted uncontrolled liberalization, this would undermine the 
system of public patronage that was keeping his regime in power. This 
concern has meant that Syria's economic reforms have been based on 
the political motives of regime survival and regional standing. 35 

With a GDP of $21.5 billion in 2003 and a per capita income 
of $1,020, the World Bank classes Syria as a lower middle-income 
economy. Oil and agriculture provide the majority of Syria's revenue, 
with large oil discoveries accounting for healthy economic growth 
between 1990 and 1995. However, Syria's oil reserves are only expected 

Syrian State Structure 51 

to last a further twelve years based on the current extraction rate 
and new discoveries of oil are likely to extend this by only another 
five to eight years at most, although this may be offset against the 
development of natural gas production. In addition, the economic 
growth of the early 1990s has not been maintained, and despite major 
economic reform, the Syrian economy remains weak. 36 The World 
Bank cites a growth rate of 2.5 per cent for 2003. 37 

Syrian unemployment currently stands at approximately 20 per 
cent of the labour force and the Syrian education system has been 
criticized for failing to provide both a good quality of education and 
economically relevant skills. The US Department of State estimates 
that almost 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 20. 38 
The World Bank classes Syria's main challenge as being 

To achieve sustainable high rates of growth to generate employment 
for a rapidly growing labor force ... If the youth's labor participation 
stays at the current 60 per cent rate, between 240,000 and 300,000 
people will enter the labor force every year over the next 10 years 
... The GDP necessary to absorb these new entrants to the labor 
force and to reduce existing unemployment is estimated to be 
around 8 per cent per year. 39 

The government has recently attempted to address structural 
deficiencies in the economy. For example, to resolve the lack of a 
modern financial sector, private banking was legalized in 2001 and 
by 2004, four private banks were operating. The Syrian government 
has also introduced changes to many tax laws and is reported to be 
considering similar changes in other areas. Interest rates were lowered 
for the first time in 22 years in 2003, and again in 2004. Some basic 
commodities continue to be heavily subsidized. 40 

In 2001, Syria also submitted a request to the World Trade 
Organization to begin the accession process and become part of the 
global economy. In order to join the WTO however, Syria would be 
required to change many of its trade rules. 41 The completion of an 
Association Agreement with the European Union will also have an 
impact on Syria's economy, providing trade liberalization. 

At present, approximately 62,000 square kilometres of Syria's land 
is arable. Around 80 per cent of cultivated land depends on rainfall 
and following drought in the 1990s, the agricultural sector has finally 
begun to recover. Syrian priorities have shifted from the expansion of 
industry to the agricultural sector, which has transformed the country 

52 The Kurds in Syria 

from an importer of agricultural produce to an exporter of cotton, 
fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs. This shift was brought about 
mainly by the Syrian government's investment in large irrigation 
schemes in northern and north-eastern Syria, which it hopes will 
increase irrigated farmland by 38 per cent over the next decade. This 
is intended to achieve food self-sufficiency, reduce rural migration 
and increase Syria's export income. 42 

Recent Syrian oil production stands at 530,000 barrels per day; 
this includes both heavy grade oil and light grade low-sulphur oil. 
Income from petroleum accounts for a large part of Syrian export 
income, and work to develop its natural gas reserves for both domestic 
use and export has also begun in conjunction with international 
energy companies. 43 

Syria owes a large amount in foreign debt, although it has achieved 
bilateral rescheduling deals with virtually all European creditors. 44 
However, its debt burden was an estimated $20.8 billion in 2001. 45 


The Syrian legal system is based on a combination of Islamic sharia' 
law and civil law. Whilst French law forms the basis for much 
of Syria's civil, commercial and criminal codes, sharia' is used to 
determine issues of personal status, including marriage, divorce, 
paternity custody of children and inheritance, although the sharia' 
applied in Syria has been modified to provide a slightly improved 
status for women. 46 

The Constitution 

The current Syrian Constitution was introduced on 13 March 1973. 
In its preamble, Syria is described as a region of the Arab homeland 
and the government and independence of state are described 
as 'instruments' to 'serve the struggle for the construction of the 
United Socialist Arab society' 47 and the 'Arab nations comprehensive 
unity'. 48 The Constitution professes a dedication to popular 
democracy 49 and the principles of equity and freedom of expression 
and universal education. 50 

The Constitution makes clear that all of its stipulations are subject 
to the law. However, the state of emergency that has existed since 
1962 overrides much of the Constitution, preventing its provisions 
from being fully implemented and as a consequence preventing many 

Syrian State Structure 53 

of the constitutional guarantees of freedom and protection of human 
rights from being upheld. 

The state of emergency 

The law establishing a state of emergency was declared in 1962 by 
the government that was in place immediately prior to the Ba'th 
Party coup. 51 On 8 March 1963, following the coup, Military Order 
No. 2 reissued the state of emergency. This state of emergency has 
continued to the present day, thus by proxy it can be considered the 
basis for the Syrian legal framework, having existed for 40 years. The 
original state of emergency was not debated or agreed by the People's 
Assembly. 52 Within the Syrian Constitution, Article 113 legitimizes 
the state of emergency, permitting the President to take immediate 
unspecified measures necessitated by the circumstances to face the 
danger. The unspecified nature of these measures gives the president 
and his delegates a carte blanche to suppress domestic dissent. 

State of emergency laws provide the President and his deputies 
with sweeping powers that can affect all areas of life. Opposition can 
be suppressed, freedom of movement and assembly restricted, media 
organizations can be closed down, mail can be censored and property 
confiscated or requisitioned. 53 Preventative arrest and denial of rights 
are permitted, as is the referral of individuals to military courts for 
'offences against public authority', 'offences which disturb public 
confidence' or for those who 'constitute a general danger'. 54 

In essence, state of emergency provisions permit government 
institutions to act against any of the Syrian population without 
justification or reason and without fear of censure. Emergency laws 
are placed above state law, causing the overlap of executive, legislative 
and judicial powers and placing all three powers in the hand of the 
Martial Law Governor. This translates to a reality in which basic 
freedoms are denied or curtailed and arbitrary arrest and intimidation, 
detention without trial, torture and the disappearance of individuals 
are not uncommon. The law grants extraordinary powers of arrest 
and detention to the Military Governor (currently the President), 
powers which he delegates to the Syrian security services. 55 There 
are presently several hundred political prisoners being held without 
trial in Syria and individuals can be arrested on a variety of political 
charges including reading non-Ba'thist political material. 56 Many 
hundreds of Kurds were arrested following the events in Qamishli 
in March 2004, although few were charged with offences and 

54 The Kurds in Syria 

many others have remained in detention for almost a year before 
standing trial. 57 

Such punishment of individuals for what might be considered day 
to day activities in the West ensures that opposition movements and 
leaders rarely gain wide popular support. 

The judicial authority 

According to the Constitution, the judicial authority's independence 
is guaranteed by the President of the Republic with the assistance 
of the Higher Council of the Judiciary. 58 The Higher Council of the 
Judiciary is presided over by the President of the Republic. 59 Terms of 
appointment, promotion, transfer, discipline and dismissal of judges 
are defined by law. 60 

The Supreme Constitutional Court consists of five members, all 
of whom are appointed by the President of the Republic. 61 The 
Constitutional Court decides on the constitutionality of laws. 62 
At the request of the President, the Constitutional Court also gives 
its opinion on the constitutionality of bills, legislative decrees and 
draft decrees. 63 

Although the Constitution envisages an independent judiciary, 64 
this is far from the reality. In his role as Chairman of the High Judicial 
Council, the President plays a role in appointing and dismissing 
judges; he also has considerable power in forming and executing 
the law. It is very difficult to state with conviction that a judiciary is 
independent when the country's president heads the supreme court, 
holds considerable influence over the development of the law and 
provides little freedom for judges to interpret the law. 

During the increasing oppositional activity of the late 1970s, the 
Lawyers Unions and Bar Association of Syria had played a leading 
role. 65 In response, the Syrian parliament dissolved many popular 
organizations for the reason that they had been '"infiltrated by 
reactionary elements" and were dangerous to society'. 66 Local and 
regional bars were closed and law No. 39 of August 1981 ordered 
a complete reform of the bar. This reform brought the Lawyers 
Unions and Bar Association under Ba'th Party control, preventing 
democratic opposition members from gaining control or influence 
over other members. 

Individuals arrested on political charges are generally tried before 
the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court or State Security Court. 
Syria's State Security Courts were established under the state of 
emergency and have been heavily criticized. Defendants have no 

Syrian State Structure 55 

rights of appeal against the decisions of the SSSC or military courts 
and routinely defence lawyers are denied access to their clients and/or 
denied adequate time for the preparation of their defence cases. As 
a result, thousands of political prisoners occupy the cells of Syrian 
jails serving undetermined sentences. Kurdish political and cultural 
activists commonly undergo Security Court proceedings for charges 
such as being members of illegal organizations and for separatism. 
Many of the hundreds of Kurds who have been arrested or detained 
since the Kurdish unrest in March 2004, are unlikely to appear before 
a court or receive any public attention. 

The state of the Syrian legal system and redundancy of 
judicial proceedings have caused many lawyers to leave the legal 

The Penal Code 

The Syrian Penal Code provides guarantees against abuse of authority 
and obstruction of the law; guarantees freedom of association, 
expression and assembly; and provides guarantees against any form 
of torture. 67 Article 307 of the same Penal Code provides for the 
crimes of instigating confessional or racial bigotry or provoking 
conflict among the various communities and component elements 
of the nation; Article 308 provides for the crime of membership of 
any association established with the purposes referred to in Article 
307. 68 Both clauses are often used against sectors in society who do 
not follow the Arab nation party line, particularly the Kurds. 

The procedure for passing new laws in Syria requires the submission 
of draft bills to parliament for discussion, providing an opportunity 
for parliament to suggest amendments with the government. 
Parliament then votes on the draft bill after which it is resubmitted 
to the President. The President may then promulgate the bill, send 
it back to parliament or veto it. 69 Although in theory a Presidential 
veto can be overruled by a two thirds majority in parliament, this 
has never happened. 70 


Regional Relations 

Regional relations play their role in the situation of the Kurds in Syria 
and in other states. As well as the individual state interests that have 
affected the Syrian authorities' treatment of its Kurdish population, 
regional rivalries and cooperation have impacted on efforts to find a 
just solution to the Kurdish question. The realpolitik of state politics 
together with the international borders that split the Kurds between 
several states have linked the foreign and domestic policies of all 
these states. As a consequence of this, Kurdish groups have resorted 
to exploiting regional rivalries in order to serve their own interests 
within a specific state; meanwhile the Kurds themselves have been 
used as pawns in individual states' foreign policies, according to the 
geopolitical and strategic interests of the regional state concerned. 

The reported cooperation between states such as Syria, Turkey 
and Iraq on the Kurdish 'problem' has aimed to weaken the Kurdish 
movement throughout Kurdistan and prevent the establishment 
of any form of independent Kurdish state or autonomous region. 1 
The extent to which these countries coordinate their policies and 
strategies towards the Kurds is unclear to external observers, because 
the regular meetings between these states are not public. However, 
similar tactics are used in each state to prevent Kurdish political, 
economic and social organization and activity. In each country, 
Kurds have been subjected to language restrictions and prohibited 
from practising their culture and traditions. They have undergone 
forced and artificial demographic change and been the subject of 
discriminatory laws. 

On occasion, many states have lent support to the Kurdish 
movements of neighbouring states when it suited their own interests. 
Syria's history of hostile relations with Iraq and Turkey has seen the 
Kurds used frequently as pawns between the three governments to 
achieve strategic aims. The Kurds of Iraq gained support from the 
Shah of Iran in the 1970s prior to the Algiers Agreement of 1975, and 
gained support from Syria due to Syrian-Iraqi Ba'th party rivalry. Both 
Iran and Syria have in the past also supported the Kurds in Turkey. 
This strategic importance of the Kurds to each of the powerful Middle 


Regional Relations 57 

Eastern states has caused Kurdish politics to become complicated by 
inter-state interests, relations and strategy. However, at the same time 
the Kurds themselves, particularly the Kurds of Iraq, have been able 
to exploit these inter-state rivalries to gain support for their political 
or armed struggles. 

Syrian domestic state affairs and the interests of Kurds in Syria 
are heavily affected by the domestic affairs of Turkey and Iraq, both 
of which have large Kurdish populations. Most recently, hostilities 
between Syria, Turkey and Iran have been overridden by the 2003 Iraq 
War and the events that have followed. Fear that the Kurds in Iraq may 
incite increased Kurdish demands for autonomy within neighbouring 
countries has led to renewed anti-Kurdish policy throughout these 
countries. Consequently, the heightened problems experienced by 
the Kurds in Syria over recent years can only be understood in the 
context of the war on terror, the Iraq War and the way in which 
these two campaigns have affected Syria, its neighbour and their 
relations to each other. Although these events have had profound 
consequences across the Middle East, Syria has been particularly 
affected, given its Arab Ba'thist ideology and vulnerability to external 
regional and international pressures. 


Overall, Syrian-Turkish relations have historically been strained, but 
recent events have improved relations between the two countries. 

During the French Mandate, Hatay province, a coastal area to the 
west of Syria and north of Lebanon, was ceded/given to Turkey by 
the French in exchange for which Ankara signed a non-aggression 
treaty with the Mandate powers. Syria has always considered this 
land to have been unjustly partitioned and continues to define Hatay 
province as occupied Syrian territory. In addition, Syrian-Turkish 
relations have been strained by Turkey's activities along the Euphrates 
and Tigris rivers, both of which flow from Turkey into Syria, and then 
to Iraq. Issues of water sharing between Turkey, Syria and Iraq are 
discussed in the next chapter. 

Syria and Turkey have also conflicted over Israel, with whom 
Turkey has enjoyed low-level relations concentrating on bilateral 
trade, agriculture and intelligence for many years. In 1996, wide- 
ranging economic agreements expanded Turkish-Israeli relations to 
economic ties, strategic consultation and military cooperation. This 
1996 cooperation was based on the common 'terrorist threat' that 

58 The Kurds in Syria 

both countries faced from the Kurds in Turkey's south-east and the 
Palestinians in Israel. 2 Syrian unease stemmed from the potential 
military threats and strategic encirclement posed by this relationship, 
together with concerns over future control of the Euphrates River. 
Israeli private investment in Turkey's GAP project caused the Syrian 
Defence Minister to accuse Israel of using Turkey and the Euphrates 
to pressure Syria into concessions with Israel. 3 

In the early 1980s, Abdullah Ocalan and members of the Partiya 
Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) entered Syria, where they established PKK 
offices and training camps in both Damascus and the Beqaa Valley, 
Lebanon. The organization expanded and by 1984 was reportedly 
using its bases in Syria and Lebanon from which to launch armed 
attacks on Turkey. 

The presence of the PKK in Syria was tolerated by the Syrian 
authorities for political reasons. In permitting the PKK to stay on 
Syrian soil and carry out activities, Syria could apply pressure on 
Turkey and thus balance out the advantage held by Turkey over Syria 
in relation to control of the Euphrates water flows. At the same time, 
Turkey used its control over water flows to pressure Syria regarding 
PKK activities within Syrian territory. 

Relations between the two countries had deteriorated to the point 
that each country had assembled troops on respective sides of the 
Turkish-Syrian border by late 1998. However, once Syria agreed to 
expel Abdullah Ocalan, the crisis was averted. Since Syria and Turkey 
signed the Adana Agreement in 1998 under which Syria agreed not to 
foster relations with the PKK or facilitate their activities in any way, 
hostilities between the two countries have eased. The 2003 Iraq War 
and resulting question on the future of Iraqi Kurdistan have further 
increased cooperation between Syria and Turkey and in January 2004, 
Bashar al-Asad became the first Syrian head of state to visit Turkey. 
Following al-Asad's visit, the two countries agreed further cooperation 
on terrorism and extradition issues, as a result of which many Kurds 
have been returned to Turkey from Syria. 4 

Despite palpable differences in the methods adopted by each 
state (in that Syria has neither undertaken military suppression of 
its Kurdish population nor destroyed Kurdish towns and villages), 
Turkish and Syrian policies regarding the Kurds are similar. Forced 
assimilation and engineered demographic change have occurred in 
both countries, due to an inability to accept the Kurdish national 
identity. Recent Turkish and Syrian foreign and domestic policy has 
been heavily influenced by considerations preventing the creation of 

Regional Relations 59 

a Kurdish state or autonomous area. During the buildup to the 2003 
Iraq War, Syria opposed military action against Iraq and instead stood 
in support of the Ba'thist regime, a regime that Syria has historically 
been hostile towards. At the same time, Turkey risked its relationship 
with both the US and the EU by refusing the US access to southern 
Turkey in order to send US troops into northern Iraq. 

Turkey and Syria's split with foreign policy occurred due to concerns 
over the potential after-effects of an end to the Ba'thist regime in 
Iraq. The inevitable international interest in the Kurdish question and 
its resultant effect on regional dynamics meant that both countries' 
interests were best served firstly by opposing the initial war on 
Iraq and trying to maintain the status quo; then by insisting on 
the preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity and so removing the 
possibility of a permanent Kurdish autonomous region; and finally 
by opposing all attempts at allowing the Iraqi Kurds to retain any 
regional control. Both countries fear the potential effects of any 
Kurdish gains on their own minority Kurdish populations and this 
fear has caused Syria and Turkey to close ranks like never before. 


Despite coming to power in both countries in 1963, the two Ba'th 
Party branches have competed over the true interpretation of Ba'th 
ideology and for regional Arab leadership. After Syria sided with Iran 
in the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88, relations with Iraq were almost 
completely severed. It was not until 1997 that the two countries 
began meaningful cooperation, a process that has gathered increased 
momentum since the accession of Bashar al-Asad. 

Tensions also developed between the two countries because of 
depleting water reserves and Turkish and Syrian control of downstream 
water supplies to Iraq. Tensions peaked in 1973 as Syria completed 
construction of the Tabqa Dam and began to fill Lake Asad reducing 
the flow of the Euphrates to a trickle. In 1995 Iraq accused Syria 
of holding back water and called for intervention from the Arab 
League. By the end of May that year conflict over the Tabqa Dam and 
water flows brought Syria and Iraq to the brink of war. With Saudi 
mediation an unofficial agreement was reached where Syria would 
keep 40 per cent of water and allow 60 per cent to flow into Iraq. 
Tensions were also caused when Turkey began to fill the Ataturk Dam 
in 1990. Syria and Iraq accused Turkey of not informing them that 
the water would be cut off and Iraq threatened to bomb Euphrates 

60 The Kurds in Syria 

dams. Again the next chapter discusses conflict over water resources 
between Syria, Turkey and Iraq in greater detail. 

Gulf War 

As the first Gulf War came to an end in early 1991 and Iraqi forces 
withdrew from Kuwait, American rhetoric encouraged the Iraqi people 
to take matters into their own hands. Believing that they would 
receive US support, popular uprisings began to spread throughout 
Iraq in March 1991. However, when the US failed to provide support 
to the Shi'i Muslims in the south and the Kurds in the north, Saddam 
Hussein's forces intervened to subdue the revolt. 

From 28 March 1991, the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq 
experienced devastating military assaults by the Iraqi Ba'thist regime. 
This harsh suppression, combined with memories of the recent Anfal 
campaign and chemical attacks on Halabja during the Iraq-Iran War, 
caused many thousands of Kurds to flee into Turkey and Iran; within 
48 hours of the military assault commencing, approximately 1.85 
million Kurds had fled the region, some pouring into Turkey and Iran, 
others remaining in Iraq's mountainous border regions. 5 

Both Turkey and Iran were overwhelmed with the magnitude of 
refugees. Turkey's immediate concerns over the effect of a sudden 
influx of Iraqi Kurdish refugees into its own Kurdish regions, 
prompted it to close its borders and refuse asylum to Iraqi Kurds. 
This combination of a lack of preparation, the closure of the Turkish 
border and Turkey's refusal to permit UN humanitarian assistance 
to the Iraqi Kurds within its territory, along with harsh weather 
conditions and an ill-equipped refugee population, contributed to a 
humanitarian crisis in which up to 1,000 refugees per day began to 
die of cold, disease and starvation. 6 

Given momentum by the urgent humanitarian situation, the 
international community began to act. Initially suggested by Turkey 
in an attempt to relieve the pressure on its borders and prevent Iraqi 
Kurds from fomenting resistance within its own sensitive Kurdish 
areas, on 5 April 1991 UN Resolution 688 was adopted, providing for 
the establishment of a 'safe haven' in northern Iraq. The Resolution 
declared that the internal repression of Iraqi citizens was a threat to 
peace and security in the region and authorized UN action to prevent 
such repression and to provide humanitarian assistance within Iraqi 
territory. 7 UN action resulted in the creation of the 'safe haven’ 
(with a UN-controlled border) in northern Iraq, the development of 

Regional Relations 61 

a Kurdish autonomous area, the withdrawal of Iraqi forces and the 
establishment of a 'no-fly' zone over the area. 

Following the establishment of the 'safe haven' and the withdrawal 
of central Iraqi administration and control, elections were held in 
May 1992 which saw votes split almost equally between the KDP and 
PUK (the two major Kurdish political parties). Massoud Barzani and 
Jalal Talabani, leaders of the two parties, agreed on joint rule within 
the newly appointed Kurdistan Regional Government, although 
control was divided regionally and ideologically according to the 
location of their respective supporters. By 1994, fighting had broken 
out between the two parties along personal, political and economic 
lines; the tension had intensified to such an extent by 1996 that the 
KDP called for assistance from Baghdad and the PUK invited Iranian 
forces into PUK-controlled areas. 8 

Cooperation agreements in 1998 resolved the hostility and ended 
the sporadic civil violence in Iraqi Kurdistan, both parties agreeing 
not to seek external assistance or violence as a means of solving 
future disputes. 9 By the time Saddam Hussein's regime fell in 2003, 
the Kurdish politicians were thus in a strong position to form a part 
of the interim government. Their contribution to discussion on the 
future of Iraq has caused considerable unease both internally within 
Iraq and externally in Syria, Turkey and Iran. 

The 2003 war on Iraq 

The 2003 Iraq War saw the beginning of US redefinition of the Middle 
Eastern status quo, with consequent effects on Syria. Regime change, 
the presence of US troops and questions surrounding Iraq's social, 
economic and political future were all events at odds with Syria's 
internal and external objectives. Syria now perceives that the US 
military presence and support of the present Iraqi regime pose a 
direct threat to Syria's own regime and security. 

More concerning for Syria is the prospect of a permanent Kurdish 
state in northern Iraq and its resultant effect on Syria's Kurdish 
population and the general precedent that dividing a sovereign state's 
territory would set. Iraq's reorganization could spark repercussions 
within Syria, with demands for separation, increased national rights 
or devolution of power. 

2005 election 

The Iraqi elections on 31 January 2005 saw a turnout of 8.5 million 
Iraqis, 58 per cent of registered voters. Within the Kurdish regions of 

62 The Kurds in Syria 

northern Iraq, turnout was far higher than 58 per cent, with reports 
of between 80 and 90 per cent turnout in many areas. 

The elections were held to appoint members of the new National 
Assembly, which was tasked with drafting a new Iraqi constitution. 
The 275 seats available on the Assembly were to be divided on a 
proportional representation basis, after voters had selected their 
chosen parties. Conscious of the need to obtain as many votes as 
possible to ensure good standing in the final results, the KDP and PUK 
joined together and ran as a Kurdish coalition. Since the election, the 
two Kurdish parties have agreed that Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK, 
should be the person to represent both parties in any government. 
Talabani was a lieutenant under Mullah Mustafa Barzani who founded 
the KDP that is now led by Massoud Barzani. Talabani separated from 
the KDP in 1974 and formed the PUK in Damascus in 1975. 

According to official results, 47.6 per cent of the vote went to an 
alliance of Shi'ite Islamist groups. The Kurdish coalition received 25.4 
per cent of votes. As a result, 140 seats on the National Assembly 
went to the Shi'ite collation and 75 seats to the Kurdish collation. 
Forty seats went to Iyad Allawi's party and the remaining 20 seats to 
a mixture of other groups. The Kurds therefore comprise the second 
highest majority in the Assembly. 

Within Kirkuk, the Kurds won nearly 60 per cent of the vote, 
which may result in controversial debates over the future of the city. 
Although the Kurds view Kirkuk as the capital of the Kurdish region, 
Turkomen and Arabs living in Kirkuk are fiercely opposed to such a 
possibility. Turkey has also made its feelings clear in a press release 
following the election results, alleging that there were irregularities in 
Kirkuk due to 'manipulations' and that 'certain elements of the Iraqi 
society attempted to manipulate the voting procedure and extracted 
illegal gains out of this practice'. 10 

It is anticipated that the Kurds will attempt to secure as much 
power under the proposed federal Iraq as possible. It is also expected 
that, when the National Assembly begins to draft the new Iraqi 
constitution, the Kurds will negotiate for as much autonomy as they 
can get. This is likely to increase local tensions between Syria, Turkey 
and Iraq as each country fears further claims for autonomy from their 
own Kurdish population. 

Iraqi Kurdistan 

The Syrian government was not initially opposed to the safe haven 
in northern Iraq. The safe haven weakened Baghdad but was still 

Regional Relations 63 

dependent on the goodwill of neighbouring countries to allow its 
population access to the outside world and was thus viewed as not 
posing any real threat to Syrian interests. The regional balance of 
power shifted in Syria's favour with the creation of the safe haven 
because US and Allied forces no longer needed to remain in the 
region following Saddam Hussein's withdrawal from Kuwait. With 
no international recognition and no Western input into the safe 
haven's future status, neither the Syrian nor Turkish governments 
felt concerned over the possibility of the situation changing in Iraq 
and Iraqi Kurdistan. Syria was consequently open about its relations 
with the Kurdish parties of northern Iraq and opened its borders to 
their political representatives and diplomats. 

Events thus brought the Iraqi Kurdish political parties and Syrian 
authorities into a strategic relationship. However, this relationship has 
been two-sided because the Iraqi Kurds and the disputed status of Iraqi 
Kurdistan remain an area of concern for the Syrian authorities. 

Due to its neutral perspective on Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria developed 
good relations with Iraqi Kurdish political parties, who provided an 
opportunity for the Syrians to apply pressure on Iraq's Ba'th regime. 
Both the KDP and PUK were permitted to open offices in Syria, which 
further benefited Syria by deflecting attention away from its internal 
Kurdish issues and instead redirecting attention to Iraqi Kurdish 
issues, weakening the Kurdish movement in Syria in the process. As 
they had with the PKK in Turkey, the Kurds in Syria provided much 
support to the Iraqi Kurdish movement at the expense of creating 
their own national movement. Already worried about the possibility 
of sectarian and ethnic strife within Syria and the influence that 
the development of a recognized and powerful Kurdish authority 
in northern Iraq might have on its own Kurdish population, Syria's 
concerns over the status and power of the Kurdish groups protected 
by the safe haven in northern Iraq, were increased by the threat of 
US-led intervention in Iraq against Saddam Hussein and the Ba'thist 
regime. The fear of any increase in power of the Iraqi Kurds has 
played on the mind of the government and has been a significant 
factor informing both domestic and foreign policies. This concern 
played a large part in influencing Syria to support Saddam Hussein 
and the Ba'th Party, condemning the Kurds and their alliance with 
the US-led forces. 

Both leading Kurdish political parties of Iraqi Kurdistan maintain 
a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of neighbouring 
states. Although they have unofficial relations with the parties and 

64 The Kurds in Syria 

the communities of Syria they are not active among the Kurdish 
population of Syria, nor do they support any political movement 
in Syria and rarely speak out on their behalf. Yet, the strength and 
standing of the KDP and PUK across Kurdistan mean that events 
in Iraq and Turkey naturally have some impact on the political 
aspirations of the Syrian Kurds. 

At the same time, the establishment of a Kurdish-governed 
autonomous region gave hope to Kurds throughout the region, 
marking a shift in attitudes to the Kurdish question amongst the Kurds 
themselves and raising the possibility of improving their standing 
within individual states. It was inevitable that the confidence gained 
by Kurdish organizations, although initially focused towards the 
struggles of Kurds within Iraq, would eventually lead to political 
activity within Syria on the shortcomings of the Syrian state. Recent 
events have further stimulated this activity, but in response the 
Syrian state has clamped down more than ever on the Kurds within 
its borders. 

Relations between the Kurds of Iraq and the Syrian regime have 
also been soured by the rise of Arab nationalist rhetoric and political 
opposition to proposals for formal federalism in Iraq and the self- 
government of the Kurdish areas. Although the Syrian authorities 
maintained relations with the Iraqi Kurdish parties and with 
individual members of the Iraqi Interim Governing Council, Syrian 
domestic affairs suggest that these two bodies represent a growing 
concern for Damascus. 

With the war in Iraq and the involvement of the Kurds in aiding 
the occupied forces there, Kurds have become increasingly seen to be 
enemies and have been targeted as traitors. The fires of popular Arab 
nationalism have been fed by what is regarded as Western imperialist 
intervention in the Middle East and occupation of Iraq. The period 
since the war in Iraq has witnessed an increase in the numbers of 
Kurds arrested in Syria and detained for both political and cultural 
reasons. With the association of Kurds with the US-led alliance and 
invasion of Iraq, the evidence suggests that the Kurds in Syria have 
likewise been tainted by association. Today, more than ever, the Kurds 
of Iraq are seen by Damascus as a threat to Syria's internal stability, 
unity and security. 


Water Resources and Conflict 

'Conflict over transboundary rivers usually results from a power 
imbalance amongst riparians where one State or Province is 
sufficiently influential to exert its authority over others. Generally, 
upstream States are considered to be in a more influential position 
as they can control the water source, but regional power imbalances 
may make it possible for downstream riparians to exert influence 
over upstream States. Similar conflicts also occur within States 
where rivers cross internal political borders.' 

World Commission on Dams (WCD) 

'It is only with dams that states can significantly re-direct, store and 
otherwise alter the course of rivers to the extent that would cause 
changes of conflict-invoking proportions in neighbouring states.' 

Fiona Curtin, consultant to the WCD 1 


The Euphrates River originates in the mountains of north-east Turkey, 
where several tributaries rise before merging near Keban to form the 
Euphrates River itself. After Keban, the river flows south, crossing into 
Syria at Jarablus. Within Syria, it is joined by the Sajur and Balikh 
rivers before entering Iraq at Al'Qa'em. It finally joins the Tigris in 
the south of Iraq to form the Shatt Al-Arab River, which drains into 
the Arabian Gulf near Al-Faw. 

There are disputes over the length of the Euphrates and how much 
of it falls in each of the three co-riparian countries. The most recent 
figures are from the government of Iraq, which put the length at 
2,940 kilometres (km), with 40 per cent in Turkey, 20.5 per cent in 
Syria and 39.5 per cent in Iraq. 

Although more than two thirds of the drainage area lies outside 
Turkey, 93 per cent of the water in the river originates in Turkey 
- although some put the percentage at 88 per cent and others at 98 
per cent. The drainage area of the Euphrates is widely accepted as 
444,000 square kilometres (km 2 ). However, as with the length of the 


66 The Kurds in Syria 

river flowing through each country, the share of each state in the 
basin is hotly disputed. Some authorities put the Turkish share at 28 
per cent, with Syria at 1 7 per cent, Iraq 40 per cent and Saudi Arabia 
15 per cent. Others apportion the relative shares according to the 
length of the river in each country. 


Like the Euphrates, the Tigris (1,840 km) also flows through Turkey, 
Syria and Iraq. In Turkey, the Tigris flows through the south-east 
for about 400 km, forms the border with Syria for 40 km, and flows 
downstream to Iraq. As with the Euphrates, there is controversy over 
the river's length, its drainage area and each country's share of the 
river. Iraqi government figures put the drainage area at 235,000 km 2 , 
of which 105,750 km 2 (45 per cent) is in Iraq. Figures produced 
by geographer Hillel put Iraq's share of the basin at 78 per cent, 
Turkey's share at 20 per cent and Syria's at 2 per cent. 4 The river's 
flow is characterized by a high annual and seasonal variability. The 
annual mean flow rate is 520 m 3 /s at the border between Turkey and 
Syria (16.2 billion m 3> or Bm 3 , in a year). The lowest flow was 9.6 
Bm 3 in 1973, and the highest was 34.3 Bm 3 in 1969. Mean flow in 
April is 1,433 m 3 /s, while the driest month September is 113 m 3 /s. 
Downstream, at Baghdad, the average flow is 1,236 m 3 /s. s 


In the case of the Tigris and Euphrates basins, the role that dams 
have played in exacerbating conflict between the major riparian 
States - Turkey, Syria and Iraq - is clear. All three countries rely 
on the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris for their agriculture and 
future development. Unsurprisingly, the development of engineering 
projects on the two rivers, notably large dams and irrigation works, 
has been a source of growing tension between the riparian states. 
Although outright violence has been avoided, hostilities have 
mounted each time that a new dam has been built or proposed. On 
at least three occasions, such hostilities have brought the various 
parties to the brink of war, with troops being mobilized and threats 
made to bomb existing dams. 

Iraq, the last downstream state on the rivers, was the first to 
develop dams on the Euphrates, constructing the Hindiya barrage 
on the Euphrates in 1914 and a second barrage at al-Ramadi in the 

Water Resources and Conflict 67 

1950s. 7 Although both Turkey and Syria began feasibility studies 
for developing the two rivers in the mid-1950s, 8 neither country 
undertook construction of any major works until 1966 when 
Syria started the Tabqa High Dam, later renamed al-Thawrah ('The 
Revolution'), on the Euphrates and Turkey began construction of the 
Keban Dam, also on the Euphrates. 

Both dams triggered major international disputes. The start of 
construction on the Keban Dam prompted protests from Syria to 
Turkey, whilst the completion of the Tabqa Dam led Iraq to threaten 
military action in 1974 and again in 1975, 9 with both Syria and 
Iraq mobilizing their troops and moving them to the border. 10 
Mediation by the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia diffused the crisis 
after Syria agreed to release more water from the dam. Subsequently 
an agreement was reached between Syria and Iraq whereby Iraq 
receives 58 per cent of the Euphrates water crossing the Syrian-Turkey 
border. The agreement has greatly eased tension between the two 
countries, leading to what Syrian government sources describe as 'an 
era of cooperation between the two countries over water'. 11 


Relations between Syria and Iraq on the one hand, and Turkey on 
the other, have however remained tense, with both Syria and Iraq 
expressing grave concerns over Turkey's ambitious Southeast Anatolia 
Project, known as GAP, after its Turkish name 'Guneydogu Anadolu 
Projesi'. Under the GAP, the Turkish government plans to develop 
a cluster of 14 dams in the Euphrates basin and eight in the Tigris. 
Noting the strategic importance of the Tigris and Euphrates, a report 
by the UK Defence Forum has warned that the GAP project as a 
whole is: 

[Ojne of the region's most dangerous water time bombs. The 
dispute has not erupted yet because the project has not yet reached 
its full potential. By the time of its planned completion in 2010, 
the vital interests involved give it the potential to become one of 
the region's most dangerous flashpoints. 13 

Launched in 1977 14 and covering nine provinces with a total 
area of 74,000 square kilometres, the $32 billion project 15 is the 
largest development project ever undertaken in Turkey, and one of 

68 The Kurds in Syria 

the largest of its kind in the world. 16 When completed, a total of 90 
dams and 60 power plants 17 will have been built on the two river 
basins, regulating 28 per cent of Turkey's total water potential. In 
addition to generating 27 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, 18 the 
dams would be used to irrigate 1 . 7 million hectares of land in order to 
grow cash crops and encourage the growth of agro-industries, such as 
food processing for export. 19 According to Dogan Altinbilek, Director 
General of DSI, the project 'has top national priority'. 20 

The newly irrigated land would increase the area in Turkey under 
irrigation by 40 per cent. Based on 1994 figures, the GAP authorities 
predict that the project will eventually increase vegetable production 
by 40 per cent, cotton by 300 per cent, barley by 40 per cent and 
wheat by 100 per cent. Around the Ataturk Dam, the region has 
been transformed into one of the most important centres of cotton 
production in Turkey. 21 Overall, it is claimed that the GAP will 
generate 3.8 million jobs and raise per capita income in the region 
by 209 per cent. 22 

Numerous government departments are involved in the 
implementation of GAP, under the aegis of the Southeastern Anatolia 
Project Regional Development Administration (GAPRDA). 

To date, Turkey has invested some $14 billion from its own 
domestic resources in GAP, with international institutions and the 
private sector investing a further $3.5 billion. 23 Of the planned water 
projects, twelve dams and six hydroelectric power plants have already 
been built - including the giant Ataturk, Karakaya, Keban and Birecik 
dams. Sixty per cent of the planned hydroelectric plants are running, 
generating 15 per cent of Turkey's total electricity production. As of 
December 1999, 1 1 per cent of the total planned irrigation target had 
been achieved, with 8 to 10 per cent under construction. 


Turkey argues that the GAP project is key to its future economic 
development. Although both Syria and Iraq are at pains to point out 
that they respect Turkey's right to develop, both countries fear that 
the GAP project will result in serious downstream impacts, including 
dramatically reduced flow and increased levels of pollution. Both 
countries also fear that Turkey is using the GAP to establish control 
over the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates as part of a wider policy 
of establishing regional hegemony. 

Water Resources and Conflict 69 

Reduction in water flow 25 

Much of the water stored in GAP dams is intended for irrigation. 
According to the GAP administration, the dams that form part of the 
GAP project would be used to irrigate a total of 1.7 million hectares 
of land. 26 

As regard the Tigris, according to Syrian sources, 27 if fully completed, 
GAP projects on the Tigris are scheduled to irrigate a total of 601,824 
hectares. On the basis of the figures published by the GAP authorities, 
Iraq calculates that the Tigris irrigation projects will consume 5.8 
Bm 3 28 and reduce the flow of the Tigris as it passes the border into 
Syria at Cizre by 66 per cent 29 - from an annual 16.72 Bm 3 30 to 5.58 
Bm 3 . Allowing for the water received by the Tigris from tributaries 
in Syria, Iraq estimates that it would receive 47 per cent less water 
than at present. According to the Iraqi authorities: 

Such a big shortage in the Tigris River resources will have grave 
repercussions for Iraq. The majority of Iraq's population depends 
on the Tigris to meet their drinking water needs, agricultural 
requirements and others. Agriculture has been practiced for 
thousands of years along the said river and technical studies have 
shown that a decrease of 1 Bm 3 in the river's resources will result 
in the non-use of arable lands estimated at 62,500 hectares (ha). 
Since the current river's resources suggest a drop of 11.14 Bm 3 , 
the total agricultural area which will be deprived of water in Iraq 
will reach 696,000 ha. The non-use of such areas will have severe 
consequences for the entire agricultural production and the water 
supply for existing farms, as well as other social and economic 
repercussions on farmers deprived of agricultural requirements, let 
alone the problem of desertification which will be exacerbated as 
a result of the above mentioned reduction of arable lands. 31 

Iraq also predicts that the reduced flow 'will be reflected badly 
on power generation' from the Saddam and Samara dams. 32 'It is 
expected that power production in Saddam Dam will drop at a rate 
close to that of water reduction in the discharges coming to the dam: 
that is to say, that reduction of power generation in Saddam Dam 
will drop by approximately 53 per cent.' 33 

Syria, which has a similar dependency on the downstream flow of 
the Euphrates, forecasts similar problems arising from reduced flow of 
that river. Before the construction of the Keban Dam in 1966, Turkey 

70 The Kurds in Syria 

used just 3 per cent of the waters of the Euphrates for irrigation. 34 If 
GAP is completed, the total irrigated area for the Euphrates basin in 
Turkey will increase to 1,628,203 hectares, 35 requiring 9-16.9 Bm 3 
of water a year. Syrian officials estimate that the downstream flow of 
the Euphrates as it crosses the Syrian border will be reduced by 30-60 
per cent. 36 In effect, 'Turkey is planning to use completely half of the 
Euphrates yield, leaving Syria and Iraq the other half. Moreover, 1 1 
per cent of this half will be of lower quality water since it is return 
irrigation water from Turkey.' 37 

Increased water pollution 38 

The original planning for the GAP project appears to have paid little 
attention to the problem of return flows from irrigation schemes. Both 
Syria and Iraq fear that the result will be increased levels of salinity 
in the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, a problem which will be 
compounded by pesticide and fertilizer run-off and by increased 
sewage discharges from the new urban centres that GAP is seeking 
to stimulate. As Syrian officials told the KHRP Fact-Finding Mission 
(see final section of this chapter for details of the Mission): 

Deterioration of water quality results in a series of problems with 
negative impacts on human health and environment. The use 
of contaminated water in irrigation results in the transmission 
of contaminants to the irrigated plants and consequently to 
humans, as well as increasing soil salinity, reducing productivity 
and converting areas of agricultural land into barren land. The 
deterioration of water quality definitely reduces the uses to which 
the water can be put, even if it does not render the water completely 
unusable for human or agricultural consumption. This can create 
a shortage in water supply, converting the quality problem into a 
quantity problem. 39 

Estimates vary, but one independent study has predicted that 
insecticide levels in the Syrian portion of the Euphrates and its 
tributaries could increase by 35 per cent. 40 Technical studies conducted 
by Iraq have also forecast a doubling of salinity levels in the Tigris 
as a result of upstream irrigation in Turkey. 41 Iraq also believes that 
existing dam projects on the Tigris and Euphrates will affect about 
1.3 million hectares of agricultural land - some 40 per cent of the 
agricultural land available - as a result of declining water quality. 42 

Water Resources and Conflict 71 

Turkish ambition to control its neighbours 43 

There are also fears that the dams that Turkey has built - or intends 
to build - will enable Turkey to exercise control over its downstream 
neighbours. Such fears are not without foundation. Over the years, 
Turkey has made a number of statements that leave little room for 
doubting its 'first come, first served' approach to the waters of the 
Tigris and Euphrates. In 1992, for example, Turkey's Prime Minister 
Suleyman Demirel stated: 'Neither Syria nor Iraq can lay claim to 
Turkey's rivers any more than Ankara could claim their oil. This is a 
matter of sovereignty. We have a right to do anything we like. The 
water resources are Turkey's; the oil resources are theirs. We don't 
say we share their oil resources, and they cannot share our water 
resources.' 44 In recent years Turkey's tone has, in the words of The 
Economist, 'softened somewhat from outright belligerence to studied 
imprecision'. 45 Nonetheless, despite the talk of collaboration over the 
use of the Tigris and Euphrates, the language is still uncompromising. 
Commenting on a series of dams that Turkey intends to build on the 
Uphort river, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz told the 
Arab daily newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat in February 2001: 

We have completed works in almost 50 per cent of the infrastructure 
and we are in the meantime working on the final stages, and we 
will extend the invitation to Syria to accept the inevitability of 
this project and to join negotiations on a rational use of waters. 
We are ready to deal fairly and generously, but the division of 
waters will not be equal, as the Euphrates, like any other Turkish 
river, should be basically used for serving the interests of the 
Turkish people. 46 

Turkey's aggressive water politics were illustrated most dramatically 
in 1990, when Turkey blocked the flow of the Euphrates for 9 days 
whilst filling the reservoir of the Ataturk Dam. 47 Both Syria and Iraq 
accused Turkey of failing to inform them of the cut-off, prompting 
Iraq to threaten to bomb all the Euphrates dams. 48 Turkey's Ministry of 
Foreign Affairs rebutted such claims, arguing that its co-riparians had 
'been informed in a timely way that river flow would be interrupted 
for a period of one month, due to technical necessity', 49 and that, prior 
to impoundment, more water than usual was released downstream, in 
order to allow Syria and Iraq to store sufficient waters to carry them 
through the impoundment period. 50 Turkey also argued that the 

72 The Kurds in Syria 

average flow downstream never fell below 500 m 3 /s - the minimum 
agreed under a 1987 Protocol signed between Turkey and Syria. 51 
This is disputed by both Syria and Iraq, which point out that the 
decision to release 'extra' water downstream prior to impoundment 
was taken unilaterally by Turkey and without sufficient notice. Syria 
also notes that whilst the average monthly discharge at Jarablus on 
the Turkish-Syrian border for the year 1989-90 may not have fallen 
far below the agreed 500 m 3 /s, 52 the monthly discharge in January 
and February 1990 was far lower - 321 m 3 /s and 320 m 3 /s respectively. 
The Mission reviewed the discharge data from the measuring station 
at Jarablus and found the Syrian case persuasive. 

The Ataturk incident serves as a constant reminder to Syria and 
Iraq of the potential hold which the GAP project, even uncompleted, 
gives Turkey over its downstream neighbours. Turkey's three major 
dams on the Euphrates - Keban, Karakaya and Ataturk - have a 
storage capacity (some 90-100 Bm 3 of water) which greatly exceeds 
the entire annual flow of both the Tigris and Euphrates put together. 53 
Should Turkey decide to cut off downstream flow completely, it would 
therefore have the means to do so for a considerable period of time. 
Inevitably, questions have been raised as to why Turkey should have 
built in such huge surplus storage capacity. 

Even if an agreement is reached on water sharing, assurances that 
downstream flow rates will be maintained will ultimately depend on 
Turkey's political ambitions in the region. Turkey's membership of 
NATO, its close relations with the US and its acceptance for application 
for membership of the EU all place it in a strong bargaining position 
vis-a-vis its downstream neighbours, particularly Iraq, which has 
been weakened economically and militarily by a decade of sanctions. 
Indeed, officials in both Iraq and Syria expressed the view that Turkey 
had taken advantage of the sanctions against Iraq - and its pariah status 
internationally - to push ahead with its GAP projects on the Tigris, on 
the assumption that opposition from Iraq (the major downstream co- 
riparian, since the Tigris only flows through Syria for 40 kilometres) 
would be either ignored or muted. Whilst consideration of UN policy 
towards Iraq is outside of the Mission's remit, the Mission was gravely 
concerned by the destabilizing effects of sanctions on regional power 
relations, in addition to their evident impact on the Iraqi people and 
in particular poorer sections of Iraqi society. 54 The Mission recalls 
the finding of the World Commission on Dams that water conflict 
is intimately connected to imbalances of power amongst riparian 
states, and is of the firm view that continued sanctions are potentially 

Water Resources and Conflict 73 

stoking the fires of future conflict in the region. The Mission was 
also disturbed to learn of the wide range of agricultural equipment 
and equipment relating to water engineering projects that had been 
denied to Iraq by the UN Sanctions Committee. 55 The denial of such 
equipment can only result in lower food production and, in the 
case of irrigation pumps, increased salinization and environmental 
damage. The Mission considers this unacceptable. 


The first dam to be built under GAP was the Karakaya Dam 
(constructed 1976-87) on the Euphrates. Other dams have quickly 
followed - the Ataturk Dam (1983-92), the Karkamis Dam (1996-99) 
and most recently the Birecik Dam (1993-2000). GAP projects on 
the Tigris include the Dicle Dam (1986-97) and the Batman Dam 
(1986-98). 57 

As noted above, tensions came to a head in 1990 when the Turkish 
authorities effectively halted the flow of the Euphrates altogether in 
order to fill the Ataturk Dam. Further protests by Syria and Iraq were 
lodged with Turkey in 1993, prior to the construction of the Birecik 
Dam on the Euphrates. 58 The same year, with many GAP dams at a 
low level due to drought, Turkey 'chose to turn off the tap during 
the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice in June, reducing the flow from 500 
cubic metres per second to 170' 59 in contravention of its agreement 
under the 1987 Protocol with Syria. 

In 1999 and 2000, the two downstream states also protested that 
they had not been consulted on the proposed construction of the 
Ilisu Dam on the Tigris, in contravention of international law and 
bilateral agreements. 60 The Turkish authorities denied the charge, 
arguing that it had informed Syria and Iraq of its plans with regard 
to every GAP project. 61 

The Turkish government also claimed that, contrary to Syrian 
and Iraqi fears, Ilisu would not adversely affect downstream flow. 
Independent analysis of the data presented in the Environmental 
Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) for the project, however, flatly 
contradicts the Turkish government's claim. 62 The analysis found 
that the construction and operation of the Ilisu Dam by itself would 
significantly affect the hydrology of the Tigris River. It would alter 
the seasonal flow pattern by capturing all except large flood flows 
in the spring and releasing them in the autumn, and would create 
large daily flow fluctuations whose influence would be felt more 

74 The Kurds in Syria 

than 65 km downstream at the Syrian border. In addition, the 
operation of the Ilisu Dam in combination with diversions from 
the future downstream irrigation project at Cizre on the Syrian 
border would probably significantly reduce summer flows in Syria 
and Iraq below historic levels. It is likely that a significant portion 
of the recommended minimum flow release from Ilisu of 60 m 3 /s 
during dry years would be diverted. It is even possible that, with full 
implementation of the Ilisu/Cizre projects, during drought periods all 
the summer flow could be diverted before it crossed the border. 

In 2000 tensions again mounted when Turkey once more 
announced that it would be unable to meet the agreed downstream 
flow of 500 m 3 /s to Syria, as a result of drought. 


Although Syria and Iraq have both sought to negotiate a tripartite 
agreement on the sharing of the Euphrates and Tigris waters, Turkey 
has refused to come to the table, 64 insisting on linking any negotiation 
to other issues such as Syria's alleged support during the 1980s for 
the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and more recently the ongoing 
border dispute over Iskenderun. 65 

Syria and Iraq assert that their desire to reach a tripartite agreement 
on future use of the rivers is based both on hard evidence of the 
severe damage that has already been done by Turkey's dam building 
project, and on the prospect of further severe damage should the dam 
project be completed without reaching any collective agreement on 
Turkey's use of the water. Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Waleed 
Mu'allim, told the Mission: 

Water is life. Many analysts believe disputes over water will be 
a major cause of military conflict in the region. We want water 
to be a source of cooperation. We want to resolve this peacefully 
and in accordance with international law. But if the GAP project 
goes ahead as planned and without an agreement, within five 
years more than 7 million Syrians would suffer from salt water 
pollution and damage to agriculture and drinking water. We are 
doing our best to attract Turkey to the table to negotiate and to 
prevent military conflict. 66 

Turkey insists that it has consulted fully with its downstream 
neighbours on its proposed dams and that it is ensuring adequate 

Water Resources and Conflict 75 

downstream flow of good quality water. Although a number of Iraq- 
Turkey and Turkey-Syria agreements have been negotiated, Turkey 
has not, in the view of the Syrian government, respected them. 67 
In 1987, for example, Turkey agreed to ensure a minimum average 
monthly flow of the Euphrates across the border to Syria of 500 cubic 
m 3 /s over a full year. However, the flow often falls below that level in 
the summer months. In July 1999 official Turkish figures put the flow 
at 343 m 3 /s and on one occasion the flow was stopped entirely. 

Iraq also questions the good faith of the Turkish government. 

The insistence of Turkey in continuing the implementation of the 
Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), in spite of the repeated objections 
of Iraq and Syria, constitutes a flagrant violation of the principles 
and rules of international law . . . Turkey ignores all legal rules that 
bind it to coordinate and consult with Iraq. Meanwhile, Turkey 
tries to legalise this deliberate neglect through interpreting those 
rules in such a manner that corresponds with its own interests, 
regardless of the interests of the other littoral states. 68 

Iraq and Syria thus continue to call on the Arab League to unite 
against Turkey over the GAP. Indeed, the League has passed a number 
of resolutions expressing concern over the building of dams on the 
Tigris and Euphrates. 69 


The London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project has conducted a 
number of Fact-Linding Missions to the region regarding the Ilisu 
Dam, often in association with other NGOs. 71 A Fact-Finding Mission 
undertaken by the Kurdish Human Rights Project and The Corner 
House in July 2002 concluded that GAP dams have already caused a 
significant change in the flow regime of the Euphrates and to a lesser 
extent the Tigris. The mission supported the view expressed by Syrian 
officials that, whilst water quality in Syria has yet to be seriously 
affected by GAP dams, the full implementation of GAP would have 
major adverse consequences. The Mission also found that the reduced 
flow of the Euphrates has already caused increased salinity in the 
lower reaches of the river, seriously affecting agriculture. 

The Mission also commented that the system of consultations 
between Syria and Iraq regarding the two rivers was well established 
and operated well. The agreement to share the waters of the Euphrates 

76 The Kurds in Syria 

58-42 per cent works smoothly, even during times when political 
relations are difficult. In comparison, the Mission could not say the 
same regarding consultation between Turkey and its co-riparians. The 
Mission found Turkey's claim that its downstream co-riparians had been 
consulted on GAP projects within the tripartite technical committees 
that met between 1972 and 1991 to be without substance. 


International Relations 

'Syria still allows its territory and parts of Lebanon to be used by 
terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. 
You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability 
Act. And we expect the Syrian government to end all support for 
terror and open the door to freedom.' 

George W. Bush, President, United States of America 1 

International relations with Syria range from the positive relations 
with Russia and Arab League states to the more awkward dealings 
with the US and Europe. Traditional Cold War allies such as Russia 
have supported Syria, to the extent that Russia forgave several billion 
dollars of Syria's debt during Bashar al-Asad's January 2005 visit to 
Moscow. During the same visit, Syrian-Russian talks are believed to 
have resulted in several cooperation agreements, re-strengthening 
ties between the two countries. 

Overall, Syria's relations with the West have been less positive 
although until recently, Europe and the US took different stances 
in their relationship with Syria. Whilst US relations with Syria have 
been strained for many years over allegations of Syrian support for 
terrorism, since 11 September 2001 the US has adopted an increasingly 
accusatory tone towards Syria, alleging Syrian involvement in 
weapons of mass destruction and terrorism and adding Syria to its 
'Axis of Evil'. In contrast, Europe has sought a more constructive 
approach to Syria, negotiating an Association Agreement and using 
closer relations as a means to address issues such as human rights 
and weapons of mass destruction. 

Following the 2003 Iraq War American attention has shifted 
towards Syria, Iran and North Korea, countries which the US views 
as posing the main threat in its 'War on Terror'. Although Iran 
appeared to be bearing the brunt of US attention, the assassination of 
former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 caused 
that attention to be deflected onto Syria. As protests against the 
killing increased, many of Syria's traditional allies turned against it, 
encouraging Syria to comply with UN Resolution 1559 and withdraw 


78 The Kurds in Syria 

from Lebanon. This resulted in Syria's agreement to redeploy its 
troops in the Lebanon, moving them back to the Syrian border. 


The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership 

In November 1995, a conference held in Barcelona marked the 
beginning of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Barcelona Process). 
The Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs 
aimed to lay out a framework of political, economic and social relations 
between the European Union Member States and Partner States of 
the Southern Mediterranean. This Euro-Mediterranean Partnership 
consists of 35 members, including the now 25 EU Member States 
and the 10 Mediterranean Partners: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, 
Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. 2 
May 2004 saw two of the Mediterranean Partners - Cyprus and Malta 
- enter the European Union. 

The Barcelona Process marks the creation of a new regional 
relationship, with three main objectives: 

• Political and Security Chapter: The demarcation of a common 
area of peace and stability through the reinforcement of political 
and security dialogue. 

• Economic and Financial Chapter: The formation of an economic 
and financial partnership and the gradual creation of a free 
trade area. 

• Social, Cultural and Human Chapter: The establishment of 
friendly relations between peoples through a social, cultural 
and human partnership aimed at encouraging understanding 
between cultures and exchanges between civil societies. 

To achieve these objectives, the Partnership encompasses two main 
spheres of activity. The EU carries out bilateral activities with each 
country, including the negotiation of Association Agreements with 
individual Mediterranean Partners. These Agreements contain 
general principles regarding the relationship but also reflect the 
different characteristics in the relationship between the EU and 
each Mediterranean Partner. The EU also carries out multilateral 
activities, dealing with problems common to most of its Mediter- 
ranean partners. 

International Relations 79 

These activities receive technical and financial support from the 
MEDA programme, which committed €3,435 million between 1995 
and 1999 to support cooperation programmes and other projects. A 
further €5,350 million has been set aside for activities between 2000 
and 2006. Further support has come from the European Investment 
Bank, which provided €4,808 million between 1995 and 1999 and 
has allocated a further €6,400 million up to 2006. These financial 
resources are subject to programming. For this, Strategy Papers are 
drawn up covering the period 2000 to 2006 at a national and regional 
level. Three-year national indicative programmes (NIPs) are drawn 
up for the bilateral activities, with a regional indicative programme 
covering the multilateral activities. 

Based on its Country Strategy Paper for Syria, the main challenges 
facing Syria over the medium term are diminishing oil reserves, rapid 
population growth, environmental degradation and the military and 
political conflict with Israel. The EU believes it can most effectively 
assist Syria by focusing on five key sectors: institution-building, 
industrial modernization, human resources development, trade 
enhancement, and human rights/civil society. 3 

On 19 October 2004, the European Commission and Syria 
announced an end to negotiations for an EU-Syria Association 
Agreement. With the other Mediterranean partners having 
already concluded their Association Agreements, this Agreement 
represented the completion of a network with all participants in 
the Barcelona Process. 4 

The EU-Syria Association Agreement 

Although negotiations on the EU-Syria Association Agreement began 
in 1998, they achieved little progress. It was not until 2001, when 
Bashar al-Asad reorganized the government and placed reform-minded 
ministers into ministries, that progress was made. This progress and 
associated priority on reform was continued by the new government 
under Prime Minister Al-'Utari, who took over in September 2003. By 
9 December 2003, all technical negotiations relating to the Agreement 
had been concluded and other than being politically approved by 
both parties, the Agreement was ready for signature. 5 

On 19 October 2004, the European Commission and Syria marked 
the formal end to negotiations for the Association Agreement. With 
the other Mediterranean partners having already concluded their 
Association Agreements, this Agreement represented the completion 
of a network with all participants in the Barcelona Process. 6 The 

80 The Kurds in Syria 

Agreement covers three main areas of politics, economics and social 
and cultural matters. 


The Agreement creates a framework to enable regular political 
dialogue on international issues of common interest. The framework 
covers topics including the respect for democratic principles and 
fundamental human rights, anti-terrorism and cooperation on 
working against the creation of weapons of mass destruction. 


The Agreement foresees the creation of a free trade area between 
the EU and Mediterranean Partners by 2010 and covers a variety 
of economic issues to enable future free trade between the EU and 
Syria. These issues include rules for trade in goods and services, rules 
of public procurement and cooperation in areas such as customs, 
tourism and the environment. 

Social and cultural matters 

The Agreement also foresees cooperation in an array of areas such as 
education, culture, racism and xenophobia, the fight against crime, 
the rule of law, legal and judicial cooperation and the movement 
of persons. 

Weapons of mass destruction 

On 12 December 2003, the European Council adopted a European 
Security Strategy, 'A Secure Europe in a Better World'. One of the 
major threats identified over the next ten years was the proliferation 
of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Strategy adopted by the 
European Council provides a clear guide on action to be taken in the 
fight against the proliferation of WMD. 7 

In a six-monthly Progress Report dated December 2004, it was 
reported that following negotiations with Syria, the Association 
Agreement initialled on 19 October 2004 contained a WMD clause 
under which Syria agreed to cooperate with the EU to counter the 
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of 
delivery. 8 The EU has therefore taken a more positive approach toward 
dealing with allegations of Syrian WMD by forming a partnership 
with Syria to work together on the issue, instead of accusing Syria 
and demanding results. 

International Relations 81 

Human rights 

Despite negotiating with Syria to conclude the Association Agreement, 
the European Union has been prominent in criticizing Syria over 
domestic human rights abuses. 9 The EU has publicly made clear 
that it hoped the overall human rights situation in Syria would have 
developed more positively following Bashar al-Asad’s accession to 
power. Following the Damascus Spring, the EU was vocal in its protests 
over many of the arrests and convictions of opposition figures and 
human rights advocates. 

More specifically with regard to the Kurdish issue, the EU has 
criticized Syria over its treatment of the Kurdish population that has 
never received Syrian citizenship. Despite promising to deal with this 
issue, the EU institutions have noted that the Syrian government 
is yet to produce negligible results in this area. The EU has also 
expressed concerns over the serious human rights abuses that appear 
to have occurred following the disturbances between Kurds and Arabs 
in Qamishli and the surrounding regions. 

In its 2003 Annual Report on Human Rights, the European Council 
stated that the human rights situation in Syria had been addressed 
in an EU statement to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). 
Although the EU was said to be 'encouraged' by Syria's decision 
to release 600 political prisoners and grant licences to individual 
publications, the report stated that the EU remained concerned about 
the overall human rights situation in that country: 

There have been reports of widespread use of torture in Syrian 
prisons and a lack of accountability of the security services. The 
EU deplored politically motivated arrests and trials of prominent 
members of civil society and journalists for peacefully exercising 
their freedom of expression, as well as the sentences against two 
members of parliament. 10 

In its own Annual Report of 2003 on Human Rights, the European 
Parliament summarized its own external human rights activities. 11 
In the case of Syria, the report referred to hearings that had been 
held with civil society representatives focusing on political prisoners 
within Syria, making special reference to the case of Riad A1 Turk. 

Riad A1 Turk, a leading member of the National Democratic 
Alliance 12 and First Secretary of the Syrian Communist Party, had 
previously been detained without charge or trial between 1980 

82 The Kurds in Syria 

and 1998. In September 2001 A1 Turk was re-arrested as part of the 
government crackdown following the Damascus Spring, tried before 
the Supreme State Security Court and in 2002 was sentenced to 
two and a half years in prison on charges including 'attempting to 
change the constitution by illegal means'. 13 Shortly after the hearing, 
the European Parliament issued a resolution calling for A1 Turk's 
immediate release; Riad A1 Turk was later released under a personal 
presidential amnesty on 16 November 2002. 

The European Parliament resolution calling for Riad A1 Turk's 
release also called on the Syrian authorities to, amongst other things: 
ensure that detainees were well treated and not subjected to torture 
or other ill-treatment, and ratify the Convention against Torture 
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 
without reservation and implement its provisions. 14 On 19 August 
2004, Syria acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other 
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, 
in accordance with Article 28 of the CAT, Syria declared that it did 
not recognize the competence of the Committee Against Torture 
provided for in Article 20 of the CAT. 

Under Article 20, if information appears to contain well-founded 
indications that torture is being systematically practised in the 
territory of a State Party, the Committee can conduct an inquiry, 
visit the territory of a State Party or request the State Party to submit 
observations on the information. In inserting this declaration, Syria 
has effectively removed the possibility of action being taken against 
it when human rights organizations or individuals allege that Syria 
has carried out torture. 

Syria also declared that its accession to the Convention Against 
Torture did not signify recognition of Israel, nor would it entail entry 
into any dealings with Israel in the context of the provisions of the 


US-Syrian relations were severed in 1967 and not restored until the 
June 1974 Syrian-Israeli disengagement agreement. By the early 
1990s, US-Syrian relations were at a high, with Syria cooperating 
as a member of the multinational coalition forces in the 1990 Gulf 
War and with the US and Syria working together on the Ta'if Accord 
to end civil war in Lebanon. 

International Relations 83 

However, the US has long held concerns over Syria, particularly 
with regard to terrorism. When the US first drew up a list of state 
sponsors of terrorism in 1979 Syria was on the list and has not yet 
been removed, making it ineligible for most US aid. US concerns 
also existed regarding Syrian support for terrorist groups including 
Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad both in 
Syria and Lebanon, Syria's continued presence in Lebanon in defiance 
of the Ta'if Accord and Syrian human rights abuses. Towards the end 
of the 1990s, these concerns widened to include Syria's pursuit of 
weapons of mass destruction, causing US-Syrian relations to weaken 
even further. As US relations have swung between constructive 
engagement and public condemnation of Syria with corresponding 
applications of diplomatic and economic pressure, legislation has 
been periodically introduced to further US aims. Most recently, 
formal US pressure on Syria was seen in the Syria Accountability 
and Lebanese Sovereignty Act (SALSA). 

Since the removal of Saddam Hussein's Ba'thist regime in Iraq in 
April 2003, Syria has become increasingly singled out as one of the 
two pariah states of the Middle East region, the other being Iran. 
Along with the increased sense of isolation, recent events in early 
2005 have increased tensions between Syria on the one hand, and 
the US and Lebanon on the other. 


Syria voted in favour of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 in 
2002, which recognized Iraq's failure to cooperate with United 
Nations inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency over 
weapons of mass destruction, and provided for the creation of an 
enhanced inspection regime. However, Syrian opposition to coalition 
military action in Iraq in 2003, caused a further deterioration in 
Syrian-US relations. Syria did later vote for Resolution 1511 which 
called for greater international involvement in Iraq and addressed 
the transfer of sovereignty from the US-led coalition. Although the 
US acknowledged that following the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq 
on 28 June 2004, Syria pledged to cooperate on border security, 
repatriation of Iraqi assets and the eventual restoration of formal 
diplomatic relations, the US continued to display concern that Syria 
remained 'one of the primary transit points for foreign fighters and 
weapons entering Iraq'. 15 

Syria is alleged to have taken in fugitives of the former Iraqi regime 
and also to have encouraged armed fighters to cross from Syria to 

84 The Kurds in Syria 

Iraq, taking military equipment with them and using this to fight 
against coalition troops. Perhaps trying to rebut these claims, reports 
in February 2005 suggest that Syria was instrumental in capturing and 
handing over to coalition forces Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, 
the half-brother of Saddam Hussein. Al-Tikriti was on the US list 
of most-wanted people in Iraq, as an intelligence chief and former 
adviser to Saddam. 16 

Again during the buildup to the 2005 Iraq elections, the US claimed 
that Syria was supporting the insurgents within Iraq and helping 
both fighters and weapons to enter Iraq, demanding the Syrian 
government put a stop to this practice. 

Weapons of mass destruction 

Being designated a state sponsor of terrorism has also laid Syria 
open to US allegations on weapons of mass destruction. The US 
has previously alleged that Syria possesses WMD and that some of 
these weapons may have come from Iraq. At the same time, there is 
no evidence that Syria has ever used weapons of mass destruction. 
However, these allegations have served to further sour relations 
between the countries. 

Syrian accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act 

The original Syria Accountability Act was drawn up in September 
2002 by supporters of Lebanese sovereignty within the House of 
Representatives who urged the US to rethink its appeasement of 
Syria. However, the Bush administration distanced itself from the 
bill, which was then revised and presented to the House in April 2003 
as the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act (SALSA 
or SAA). This Act outlined a sanctions regime for Syria based on 
allegations that Syria held a secret chemical and biological weapons 
arsenal, that it was deliberately aiding the resistance to the US-led 
presence in Iraq and that it continued to occupy Lebanon. 

The White House rejected SALSA in early 2003, as the imposition 
of sanctions on Syria was viewed as limiting the United States' ability 
to address important issues in both Syria and the surrounding region 
at a critical juncture in US-Middle Eastern relations. However, in 
the aftermath of the Iraq War, the rhetoric of the US administration 
noticeably changed. Syrian cooperation was suddenly viewed as being 
of less importance and US officials began publicly condemning Syrian 
support for terrorism and 'occupation' of Lebanon, threatening to 
exclude it from the Middle East peace process. As of October 2003, the 

International Relations 85 

Bush administration no longer opposed the bill and on 15 October 
2003, the House of Representatives voted in favour of imposing 
economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria until Syria withdrew from 
Lebanon and ceased its support for terrorist groups. The House was 
joined by the Senate on 14 November 2003 in approving the legislation 
and on 12 December 2003, President Bush signed SALSA. 

Under SALSA, the penalties that can be imposed include banning 
US exports to Syria, reducing diplomatic contact and imposing 
restrictions on Syrian diplomats, freezing Syrian assets in the US, 
halting the investment of US business in Syria and prohibiting the 
use of American airports by Syrian aircraft. These sanctions added to 
action already taken by Washington, including the disconnection of 
the Iraqi-Syrian oil pipeline. 

Whilst SALSA has been effective in increasing economic and 
external pressures on Syria, it neither addresses the issue of human 
rights nor calls the Syrian government to account for its human 
rights abuses. 


During the 1975 civil war which was to last for 15 years, Syrian 
concerns that the fragmentation of Lebanon from Syria would 
amount to the establishment of 'another Israel' caused Syria to act as 
mediator. When diplomacy failed, Syria intervened militarily and by 
the 1980s was the main external actor in Lebanon, imposing its will 
over much of the country through the presence of Syrian troops. 

The civil war was ended by the 1989 Ta'if Agreement, which 
permitted the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon but provided 
that Syria and Lebanon would at a future date agree a timescale for the 
redeployment of Syrian troops out of Lebanon. However, by 2004 this 
had still not happened despite repeated calls for withdrawal from the 
US and other countries and this continued Syrian presence resulted 
in the UN Security Council passing a resolution on withdrawal. 

UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004) 

Resolution 1559 was intended to reaffirm the Security Council's call 
for the strict respect of Lebanese sovereignty, territorial integrity, 
unity and political independence. It declared support for free and 
fair presidential elections in Lebanon, conducted according to 
Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference 
or influence and, in that connection, called upon all remaining 
foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon. Those voting in favour 

86 The Kurds in Syria 

included the US and France, who had introduced the resolution 
together due to concerns over the apparent ongoing interference with 
Lebanese political affairs. The US alleged that the Syrian government 
had 'imposed its political will on Lebanon and had compelled the 
Cabinet and Lebanese National Assembly to amend its constitution 
and abort the electoral process by extending the term of the current 
President by three years. Clearly, the Lebanese Parliament had been 
pressured, and even threatened, by Syria and its agents to make them 
comply.' In contrast, Russia abstained from the vote, concerned that 
the wrong move might exacerbate the situation in the region and 
create further instability. 17 

The events of early 2005 

Although Syria had come under further pressure to withdraw from 
Lebanon, the events of February 2005 brought the issue to the fore. 
On 14 February 2005 a car bomb exploded in Damascus, killing 
former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Hariri had long been opposed 
to the Syrian presence in Lebanon and although Syria denied any 
involvement in the assassination, international suspicion immediately 
began to focus on Syria. The most obvious example of this was seen 
when the United States recalled its ambassador to Syria soon after the 
attack. This action was intended to express US frustration with Syria's 
behaviour in Lebanon: although the US acknowledged they did not 
know who was to blame for the attack, officials argued that Syria's 
military presence and political role in the country was generally 
responsible for Lebanon's instability. By removing the ambassador, 
the US could show its anger at Syrian dominance of the Lebanese 
military and political system. 18 

During the mourning period, thousands of protestors took to 
the streets in Lebanon, blaming Bashar al-Asad for Hariri's death 
and attacking Syrian workers. Opposition leaders including Druze 
leader Walid Jumblatt implicated Syria in the murder, arguing that 
as the Syrians were in control of Lebanese security services they bore 
responsibility for failing to protect Hariri from attack. 19 On the day 
of Mr Hariri's funeral, tens of thousands of Lebanese lining the route 
of the funeral procession mourned but also joined in calls for Syrian 
troops to leave. 20 On the same day, President Bush also called on 
Syria to adhere to UN Resolution 1559 by removing its troops and 
enabling free elections. 21 

The increasing pressure against Syria and Syrian-backed components 
of the Lebanese state then shifted to the Lebanese government, 

International Relations 87 

known allies of Bashar al-Asad. Following two weeks of protests 
during which thousands of Lebanese demonstrated in Beirut's Martyrs 
Square, the entire pro-Syrian government of Prime Minister Omar 
Karami unexpectedly resigned on 28 February 2005. 22 In response to 
the mass resignation, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared 
that the US supported Lebanese aspirations for democracy, calling 
for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Damascus and publicly 
declaring support for free and fair elections. 23 Syria's response to the 
resignations was to describe them as an internal affair. 

Despite, or perhaps as a result of the government resignations, 
pressure on Syria then increased. Even traditional allies failed to 
provide support to Syria, instead echoing Western calls for Syria to 
pull troops out of Lebanon. Russia, a long-standing friend of Syria 
since the Cold War, had previously abstained when Resolution 1559 
was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2004. However, in early 
March 2005 Russia's Foreign Minister stated that the resolution 
must be implemented and that Syrian troops should withdraw from 
Lebanon. 24 And when Bashar al-Asad attended crisis talks in Saudi 
Arabia, Saudi officials allege Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah made clear 
to al-Asad that Syria must start withdrawing troops or face difficulties 
in Saudi-Syrian relations. Hariri had previously spent two decades 
in Saudi Arabia, had close ties with the Saudi royal family and had 
taken Saudi citizenship. 25 

Under increasing pressure from the US, Europe and Middle East 
and with the situation in Lebanon making daily headlines around 
the world, on 5 March 2005 Bashar al-Asad told the Syrian parliament 
that Syria would start to pull its troops out of Lebanon, although this 
did not mean the absence of Syria's role in Lebanon. 26 Two days after 
his announcement, al-Asad met Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to 
determine troop withdrawal. Whilst the two presidents announced 
plans for a two-phase withdrawal immediately following the talks, 
some Syrian troops had already begun to pack up equipment. Under 
the two-phase plan, Syrian troops would withdraw to the Beqaa Valley 
in Lebanon by the end of March 2005 and to the border area in 
accordance with the Ta'if Agreement soon after. 27 

Whilst the announcement of withdrawal was welcomed by 
Saudi Arabia, 28 the initial US and Canadian response was that the 
withdrawal plan was a 'half hearted measure' and only complete 
withdrawal would be acceptable. 29 It remains to be seen whether 
Syrian troops do fully withdraw from Lebanon or whether some 
troops remain within Lebanon, antagonizing the US. Only then is 
the US likely to determine its final reaction to recent events. 

Part Three 
The Kurds in Syria 


In its periodic report to the United Nations Committee on 
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of 1998, Syria stated 
decisively that: 

[W]e wish to point out that there is no so-called Kurdish problem 
in the Syrian Arab Republic. 1 

The report continues by stating that: 

The Kurds do not constitute a grouping, since they are found 
throughout the country and form part of the fabric of Syrian 
society. 2 

The Kurds resident in Syria continue to be described as a migrant 
population from Turkey and Iraq that has largely assimilated 
to Syrian Arab culture. In this way, the Syrian state portrays the 
Kurds as comprising a dispersed ethnic minority in Syria with no 
historical claim to the land. This portrayal highlights the effect of 
the Arabization policy that has been implemented both in Syria and 
other states with Arab populations. 

This Arabization policy is intended to force the assimilation of non- 
Arab groups into Arabic society and culture by following several key 
tactics. Removing evidence of a non-Arab group's regional history and 
existence enables a state to deny any historical non-Arab presence 
in the area and describe such groups as migrants. Dispersing the 
non-Arab population throughout the state 'dilutes' the group, again 
removing evidence of a large non-Arab presence but also reducing 
the ability of members of the group to coordinate and organize. 
Finally, restricting the group's expression of its cultural identity forces 
the group to adapt to Arab culture and practices and forget its own 
heritage. Within Syria, severe restrictions on the flow of information 
both in and out of the country have prevented the image of the 
Kurdish population being 'largely assimilated migrants' from being 
effectively challenged. 

Over time, many other Arab states have toned down their Arabist 
rhetoric as the ideology became seemingly less potent and relevant to 
domestic and foreign policy requirements. However, Syria continues 
to depend on Arabist rhetoric for domestic legitimacy, defence against 
other Arab leaders and influence in the Arab region. Establishing 


92 The Kurds in Syria 

the Kurds as one of many threats to domestic security was in part a 
reaction to what was perceived to be a real risk of infiltration from 
foreign states and of domestic instability. As with other threats, it was 
also partly a means of rallying domestic support around the regime 
and its Arabist ideology and policy. Therefore, needs of the regime 
led to the Kurds being defined as an external source of instability and 
threat, and a sector of society whose identity should be redefined in 
line with Arab nationalism. Hence, the policy of Arabization with its 
strategy of, on the one hand, denying the Kurdish national existence 
in Syria and suppressing expressions of it, and on the other, forcing 
Kurdish assimilation to the Arab Syrian state and society. 

Although the Kurds were deemed to be a threat to the state even 
earlier than the 1960s, Arabization of Kurdish areas in Syria did not 
occur until the early 1960s. As a consequence of this policy, large 
numbers of Kurds have been stripped of Syrian citizenship and 
described as 'foreign', supporting the Syrian government's claims that 
the majority of Kurds in Syria are not historically from Syria. Their 
land has been expropriated and their economic stability threatened. 
Kurds face daily restrictions on the use of their language and the 
practice of cultural traditions. 

Although the harshest treatment was meted out to the Kurdish 
population between the 1950s and 1970s, the state's attitude towards 
the Kurds has barely altered. The maintenance of its power remains 
the regime's core concern and perceptions of increased external 
threat have generally worked to entrench the hardliners within the 
regime, reinforcing Arabist rhetoric and preventing reform and the 
development of alternative forms of legitimacy that would allow for 
the incorporation of Kurdish identity. Since the end of the Cold War 
Syria has been more isolated and vulnerable to external pressures 
and changes in regional dynamics. Indeed, all evidence suggests that 
discrimination against the Kurdish population of Syria continues 
unabated since Bashar al-Asad came to power. 

The Arabization policy applied in Syria mirrors the Arabization 
policy applied in Iraq and the Turkification policy of Turkey. The 
removal of Kurds from their land and associated demographic change 
began with the 1962 Hasakeh census in Syria. Since then, both Turkey 
and Iraq have altered the demographic makeup of Kurdish regions 
in their own countries, particularly around strategic defensive and 
economically profitable areas such as the mountainous border areas 
of Turkey and Kirkuk in Iraq. Although the tactics implemented by 
the Turkish and Iraqi authorities were more violent and involved 

Part Three: Introduction 93 

more military force, the basic strategy behind this policy has been 
the same: to alter the demographics of each country and deny the 
existence of large Kurdish populations. 

The Arabization policy targeting the Kurds of Syria, as with the 
Kurds of Turkey and Iraq, is based on the perception of the Kurdish 
population as posing a threat to the state due to their collective 
national and ethnic identity. Under the International Covenant of Civil 
and Political Rights, such a policy constitutes racial discrimination. 
Yet, in a report submitted to the International Convention on the 
Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Syrian Arab 
Republic states categorically that: 

Syrian society is distinguished from other societies in the world 
by its tolerance and lack of bigotry. ... The phenomenon of racial 
discrimination is unknown in our history and totally alien to our 
society in which any behaviour or act manifesting or implying 
racism is regarded as highly reprehensible. Accordingly, our people 
are engaged in a relentless battle against the manifestations of 
racism that characterize Israeli ideology . 3 

The changes effected in formerly Kurdish areas have resulted 
from many different actions by the Syrian state. Part Three of this 
book discusses in more detail the various ways in which the Kurdish 
identity, social, political representation and economic well-being has 
been deliberately eroded by the regime. 


The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 

'All rights should be secured to all individuals within a state's 
territory without any distinction on grounds of race, sex, national 
or social origin, birth or other status and without any discrimination 
between men and women' As provided by Article 2 of the Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 of the Arab Charter on 
Human Rights and Article 2 of the International Covenant on 
Civil and Political Rights 

The 1962 census in al-Hasakeh province resulted in between 120,000 
and 150,000 Kurds losing their Syrian citizenship. Proving Syrian 
citizenship required one or all of three documents to be shown on the 
day of the census but, as discussed previously in Part Two of this book, 
many Kurds were either unable to provide the requisite documents 
or unwilling, having not been told the purpose of the census. 

Consequently, despite the census having been intended to 
differentiate between those with a right to Syrian nationality and those 
with no such right, many of the Kurds stripped of their nationality 
were in fact entitled to be described as Syrian citizens. Instead, they 
were demoted to ajanib (foreign) or maktoumeen (unregistered) and 
underwent a corresponding reduction in their rights. 

As mentioned above, at the time of the census between 120,000 and 

150.000 Kurds became stateless in the eyes of the Syrian government. 
By 1995, the Syrian government estimated there were also around 

75.000 maktoumeen 'unregistered' Kurds; although the government 
failed to provide a figure for the number of maktoumeen children. 
And in 1996, Human Rights Watch estimated that the stateless Kurds 
then numbered around 200, 000. 1 

The treatment accorded to the ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds is 
a clear violation of both customary international law and the Arab 
Charter of Human Rights as adopted by the Council of the League 
of Arab States, of which Syria is a member. 


Under Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
(hereafter 'UDHR'), everyone has the right to nationality. Article 15 


The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 95 

further provides, as does Article 24 of the Arab Charter of Human 
Rights (hereafter 'ACHR'), that no citizen shall be arbitrarily denied of 
his original nationality. The events of 1962 saw a complete disregard 
by the Syrian state for the right to nationality, as enshrined in these 

Following the 1962 census in al-Hasakeh province, around 120,000 
to 150,000 Kurds who had lived in Syria their entire lives were stripped 
of their citizenship and classified as foreign or stateless, due to their 
inability to provide requisite paperwork on the day of the census. 

The affected Kurds were divided into two groups: ajanib (foreigner) 
Kurds and maktoumeen (unregistered) Kurds. Although the purpose 
of the census was supposedly to weed out Kurds who had come to 
Syria after 1945, the arbitrary granting and removal of citizenship 
status of many Kurds did not support this argument. 

Within families, illogical distinctions were made by the authorities. 
Fathers lost the citizenship that their children managed to retain; 
brothers were classed as a mixture of ajanib and maktoumeen. 
Entire families lost their citizenship over night. Human Rights 
Watch provided many examples, including four Kurdish couples, 
who were all born in Syria prior to 1935: every couple lost Syrian 
citizenship and their 25 children became registered as ajanib. 2 At 
the same time Kurds who, by Syrian government definitions should 
have been ineligible for citizenship, succeeded in bribing officials to 
ensure Syrian nationality. 3 

Even Kurdish men who had served in the Syrian army during 
their national service were at risk; some discovered they no longer 
held Syrian citizenship whilst undertaking military service. On one 
occasion, the authorities confiscated documents proving national 
service had been carried out by a Kurdish man who had been stripped 
of citizenship, preventing him from regaining his nationality. 4 Other 
Kurdish men who had been classed as ajanib or maktoumeen have 
since received conscription documents to undertake national service 
in the Syrian armed forces. Under Syrian laws, Syrian national service 
is compulsory for all Syrian nationals over the age of 19. 5 

Whilst some Kurds managed to regain their citizenship through tax 
records that had been imposed on Syrians during the Ottoman Turkish 
colonization, Syrian lawyers allege that these records were quickly 
sealed by the government and thereafter could not be used. 6 

Human Rights Watch is also aware of Kurds who were stripped 
of citizenship even after the original census, including Kurds who 
have lost their citizenship whilst undergoing military service and 

96 The Kurds in Syria 

others who graduated from university, were then stripped of their 
nationality and despite documentation to provide nationality, cannot 
regain their Syrian citizenship. 7 

The most obvious effect of the denial of nationality can be seen in 
the identity papers available to ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds. Syrian 
citizens are registered on the population registers and have an official 
identity card, which is used in many aspects of daily life. Ajanib Kurds 
are registered on the foreigners' registry but are not entitled to an 
official identity card; instead they are given a red identity card which 
proclaims they are ajanib. 8 Maktoumeen Kurds are not entered onto 
the official Syrian population register, nor are they permitted any 
form of identity card. The most that maktoumeen Kurds can obtain 
is a letter from the village Mukhtar (head of the village) attesting to 
knowing them; but even this basic document is difficult to obtain. 
This denial of nationality and identity papers has many knock-on 
effects for the stateless Kurds, as will be discussed in this chapter. 

Recent decrees have made it even more difficult to obtain these 
documents. For example, in October 1999 the mayor of al-Hasakeh 
province passed a memorandum forbidding the issuance of documents 
to maktoumeen. Although not fully implanted, decisions such as 
these have made life difficult for maktoumeen Kurds. 9 

This treatment of Kurds is also in direct contravention of Syrian 
law. Under Article 2 of Syrian Citizenship Acquisition Law No. 276 
(1969), nationality is given according to decree No. 67 (1961), which 

Nationality of the Syrian Arab Republic is given to those who had 

Syrian nationality on 21 st February 1958. 

Nationality of the Syrian Arab Republic is given to those who had 

the nationality of the United Arab Republic. 

Furthermore, the Citizenship Acquisition Law states that it is possible 
to give foreigners nationality. 10 To qualify, foreign nationals must 
be over 18, have lived in Syria for five years, be able to work and not 
suffer from a disease, have a good reputation, possess skills that will 
benefit the state and be able to read and write Arabic. But because 
ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds have never held any other nationality, 
they are excluded from benefiting through this law. 

It is overall far easier to acquire Syrian citizenship as a foreign 
national or child of a foreign national resident in Syria than it is 

The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 97 

for an ajanib and maktoumeen Kurd who was born and has lived in 
Syria throughout their life. 

As both ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds were allocated this status 
in 1962 and have remained in Syria to this day, they more than 
qualify under the five years residence requirement, yet the Syrian 
government has still failed to award them nationality. 

Because they do not officially exist, when maktoumeen Kurds die 
they are not even issued a death certificate. 


Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter 
'CRC') and Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights (hereafter 'ICCPR') provide that every child should 
be registered after birth and has the right to acquire a nationality. 

According to Syrian laws, a child is deemed to be a Syrian Arab 
under Syrian nationality laws if they were born in Syria to a father 
with Syrian nationality, born in Syria to parents who were unknown 
or stateless, or born in Syria to parents who were aliens and whose 
nationality the child could not acquire. 11 In reality, the denial 
of nationality to many Kurdish children flouts both Syrian and 
international law. 

Ajanib Kurds are unable to obtain travel documents thus their 
children are born on Syrian territory. However, although they are 
entered onto the foreigners' registry and receive a red identity card, 
ajanib children do not acquire Syrian nationality. Even after spending 
several years in Syria, ajanib children still remain 'foreign'. 

As explained above, maktoumeen Kurds are not registered in 
the Syrian population registers following their birth; nor do they 
receive any official identity documents. Kurdish children are classed 
as maktoumeen in the following situations: firstly, if the child's father 
is an ajanib Kurd, and the child's mother is a Syrian citizen; secondly, 
if one of the child's parents is maktoumeen; and thirdly, if the child 
is born to two maktoumeen Kurds. 

These maktoumeen children are in an impossible position. Having 
never possessed Syrian citizenship, unlike their parents they have 
not been stripped of their citizenship. At the same time, they were 
clearly born on Syrian soil and have never left Syria. However, Syrian 
laws do not appear to apply to them and maktoumeen children are 
never able to obtain citizenship. 

98 The Kurds in Syria 

The inevitable population growth has meant that the maktoumeen 
population is today far larger than the 75,000 estimated to exist in 
1995 by the Syrian government. 12 Human Rights Watch provides 
a good example of the exponential growth of the maktoumeen 
population, by comparing the situation of three brothers, all of 
whom are ajanib Kurds. One married a Syrian citizen, one an ajanib 
Kurd and one a maktoumeen Kurd; of the 26 children born to their 
families, six are ajanib and the remaining 21 maktoumeen. 13 

In 1996, a report issued to the UN Committee on the Rights of 
the Child saw the Syrian government state that all children in Syria 
were treated in a non-discriminatory fashion: 14 

The law protects Syrian and all other children residing in the 
territory of the state, regardless of race, origin, religion or 
nationality and without any discrimination between them. No 
case of discrimination in regard to this protection has ever been 
reported in Syria. 

Syrian children enjoy the same rights without discriminatory 
treatment on grounds such as race, origin, language or religion. 
They are treated equally at school and in the various institutions 
concerned with the welfare and protection of children. They all 
benefit from the same rights, privileges and services provided by 
the State. 15 

In spite of this claim, denied of their right to nationality and 
identity cards in a country where identity cards are required for 
many aspects of daily life, maktoumeen children are unable to obtain 
many of the rights listed by the Syrian government. When pressed 
by Human Rights Watch, the Syrian government failed to provide 
any explanation as to why these children are unable to obtain an 
identity card. 16 

Article 7 of the CRC requires states to ensure implementation 
of a child's right to nationality particularly where the child would 
otherwise be stateless. Syria fails altogether in this regard. 


Article 16 of the UDHR and Article 23 of the ICCPR state that men 
and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found 
a family. Article 15 of the UDHR, Article 23 of the ICCPR and Article 

The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 99 

38 of the ACHR further provide that the family is the natural and 
fundamental group unit of society and as such is entitled to protection 
by both society and the state. 

Syrian women cannot marry ajanib Kurds; if they try to marry a 
Syrian-born foreigner the marriage is not legally recognized. Any 
land or property can only be registered in the name of the woman 
and upon her death, if she has no family, the property will transfer 
to the state. Neither her husband nor children will be entitled to 
the property. 

Although it is reportedly possible to appeal for recognition of the 
marriage, a decision in their favour will not affect the official registers 
which will still recognize neither the marriage nor any children. 17 The 
Syrian government defends this policy on the grounds that without 
it, Syrian women would lose their citizenship status. The government 
has also said that 

in the case that a Syrian female should have the audacity to marry 
any foreigner, whether he is a foreigner of Hasakeh or elsewhere, 
that marriage is considered illegal. As a result, neither it nor the 
children that ensue will be registered in the civil registers. 18 

Syrian practices consequently discriminate against both non-citizen 
Kurdish males and Syrian women and prevent numerous Kurdish 
children from being part of a legally recognized family. 


The right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders 
of each state is guaranteed under Article 13 of the UDHR, Article 12 of 
the ICCPR and Articles 20 to 22 of the ACHR. Furthermore, everyone 
should have the right to leave any country including his own, and 
to return to his country. 

The red identity card held by ajanib Kurds is not valid for external 
travel and, registered only on the foreigner's registry, ajanib Kurds are 
unable to obtain passports. 19 Unable to claim any nationality other 
than Syrian, these ajanib Kurds thus cannot obtain any internationally 
recognized travel documents and consequently cannot leave Syria 
other than to relocate; although they would then be unable to re- 
enter Syria. 

Maktoumeen Kurds share the fate of ajanib Kurds in that they 
also cannot travel abroad and re-enter Syria. Travelling internally is 

100 The Kurds in Syria 

also more difficult for maktoumeen; if they are unable to obtain a 
letter from the village mukhtar, they cannot even undertake inter- 
state travel. 

Whilst internal travel is possible for ajanib and maktoumeen 
Kurds who have obtained a letter from the mukhtar, in practice such 
travel is difficult and tedious. If ajanib or maktoumeen Kurds wish 
to stay in a hotel overnight, they must obtain permission from the 
local security forces. As permission is frequently not granted, this 
restriction drastically impedes the ability of ajanib and maktoumeen 
Kurds to travel within Syria either for personal reasons or to try and 
find employment. 


Under Article 1 7 of the UDHR and Article 25 of the ACHR, every 
citizen has the right to own private property and shall not be 
arbitrarily deprived of his property. 

Ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds cannot own land, housing 
or businesses. 20 As a result, when such Kurds die, their ajanib or 
maktoumeen children cannot inherit their land or other property. 

A suburb in Damascus, known as Zor Ava ('built by force'), was 
built by Kurds working in Damascus who are unable to buy or rent 
property. Because the suburb was built without permission from the 
authorities, it could be destroyed at any time. 


Under Article 26 of the UDHR and Article 28 of the CRC, everyone 
has the right to education which should be free in the elementary 
and fundamental stages. Elementary education is compulsory, higher 
education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit 
and technical and professional education should be made generally 
available. Article 34 of the ACHR also states that every citizen has 
a right to education, that primary education shall be compulsory 
and both secondary and university education shall be made easily 
accessible to all. 

The Syrian Constitution states that it aims to achieve universal 
education. In spite of this, the ongoing denial of education to ajanib 
and maktoumeen Kurds contravenes the stipulations of these most 
basic laws. 

The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 101 

The Syrian education system requires nine initial years of study, 
after which children sit an examination. Upon obtaining a diploma 
showing that they have passed this examination, children may 
then study grades ten to twelve and from there move on to higher 

Ajanib Kurds are able to obtain a diploma and sometimes can 
study through to university, should they so wish and be able to 
afford. However, they face difficulties in qualifying and will not be 
able to obtain state employment. In addition, certain schools, such 
as military schools, schools of journalism and of medicine, deny 
access to these Kurds. 21 Even if a stateless Kurd obtains a secondary or 
higher education, their certificates are not recognized by the Ministry 
of Education and they have no transferable value for obtaining 
employment. Ajanib Kurds consequently struggle to obtain jobs 
reflecting their knowledge and experience. 

The Syrian government informed Human Rights Watch in 1996 
that maktoumeen are accepted for admission to all schools. 22 To 
attend elementary school, parents of maktoumeen children must 
first obtain a letter attesting to the child's maktoumeen status and 
then obtain permission from the internal Syrian security forces. 23 
In obtaining permission, many parents suffer harassment and 
intimidation from the security forces. 24 

The Human Rights Watch report on Syria and the Kurds of 1996 
recounts a Kurdish man's complaints with the procedure endured to 
simply register his child for first grade: 

One man pointed to his young daughter and said: 'it took me 
twenty-nine days, going to the police area director, to the security 
apparatus, to the birth registration office, just to register her for 
first grade. Then, the mukhtar had to go to Political Security, and 
they had to come and see the child.' Security operatives make this 
already difficult situation even more painful for some families: 
'They tell us that perhaps these children are not ours, but have 
been smuggled in from Israel or Turkey,' the man said. 

Once a maktoumeen child passes the examination at the end of 
grade nine, they are not issued with a diploma. Instead, they receive 
a substitute, inferior document which explains that the child has 
passed the examination and is maktoumeen. Unlike the diploma, this 
document is not sufficient for the purposes of moving up to grade 

102 The Kurds in Syria 

ten and as a result, maktoumeen children struggle to pass beyond 
ninth grade . 25 

In addition to the specific discriminatory government policy towards 
education and opportunity for stateless Kurdish children, Kurdish 
children often have to obtain employment, working in construction, 
restaurants, street stalls and elsewhere in order to contribute to the 
family income. Although this condition is not exclusive to Kurdish 
children and occurs in many sections of Syrian society, the fact that 
Kurdish communities are predominantly poor results in this being 
a common predicament among Kurds and further prevents Kurdish 
children from obtaining equal opportunity in education . 26 


The Kurdish areas of Syria are some of the most economically 
deprived areas of Syria, despite comprising some of the country's most 
economically productive regions. Cotton, wheat, olives, tobacco, 
fruits, vegetables and other products all grow easily in the rich 
agricultural land and the majority of oil fields and water resources are 
also found in these areas. Fear of losing land with such economic value 
to a neighbouring state or potential future Kurdish state bears heavily 
on the Syrian authorities. The consequences of Syria's Arabization 
policy - the removal of Syrian nationality, the land reforms and the 
resettlement of Arabs into Kurdish areas - have significantly impacted 
on the Kurds' economic well-being. This treatment has encouraged 
economic migration from the Kurdish areas, preventing Kurds from 
gaining a stronghold in the economy of these areas. 

Public sector control of agriculture is very strong in Syria . 27 The 
government can and does intervene in pricing, subsidy allocations, 
the provision of services and the provisions of finance and loans. 
Such intervention can be seen particularly in the cotton and cereal 
farming areas of Syria, for which al-Hasakeh province is well- 
known . 28 Kurdish people are commonly discriminated against when 
applying for loans, agricultural licences or business-related licences. 
Because the state perceives the Kurds as a threat to national security 
and unity, the fact that financial applications must be subjected to 
security considerations causes a disproportionate number of Kurdish 
applications to be rejected. 

Employment within the public sector is largely dependent on 
wasta, or personal connections. As a non- Arab minority, Kurds face 
increased difficulties in obtaining wasta when compared to Arabs. A 

The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 103 

key method of obtaining wasta is to join the Ba'th Party, but for the 
many Kurds who cannot deny their ethnicity as Ba'thist ideology 
requires, this is impossible. Wasta is also required for much private 
sector employment and for obtaining goods and services. 

Many Kurds face further difficulties in obtaining employment 
because they have often been blacklisted for illegal political 
activities, even though in many cases they have not been involved 
in politics. Once blacklisted, an individual is barred from all public 
sector employment. Because the accusation that an individual is a 
member of a Kurdish political party can affect their employment 
opportunities, political party membership is often used as a tool 
against Kurds. 

Ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds cannot obtain any public sector 
employment. Because the state is the main employer within Syria, 
this rules them out of contention for nearly all well-paid employment 
and they must support their families on low-paid menial work. Ajanib 
and maktoumeen Kurds are commonly found running street stalls 
in cities. In addition to the low income that these stalls generate, it 
is usual for the vendors to be required to regularly pay bakshish or 
bribes to local security personnel in order to keep their pitches. 


Education and training have a significant impact on economic 
opportunity. It is reported that Kurdish teachers are routinely 
expelled from teacher training institutes. Likewise, there are frequent 
reports of Kurdish students being expelled from university. During 
and after the Kurdish uprising in March 2005, scores of Kurdish 
students were thrown out of universities across Syria. In Damascus 
University alone, an investigative commission was formed to 
investigate students and more than 20 Kurdish students were expelled 
on 18 March 2004 in connection with their alleged participation in 
peaceful demonstrations. Twenty-eight students were also recalled 
for questioning by the commissioner under charges of 'distributing 
forbidden leaflets'. 29 

Ajanib and maktoumeen children, denied the full education 
allocated to Syrian nationals, are unable to move beyond low-paid 
and difficult menial work, which further impacts on the difficulties 
faced by many Kurdish families. 

104 The Kurds in Syria 


Under Syrian laws, all male Syrian citizens must complete two and 
a half years of military service. Due to the shortage of alternative 
employment and the alternative of poverty, many Kurds remain in 
military employment beyond the minimum time. In this way, state 
discrimination against the Kurds has led to Kurdish dependence 
on one form of state employment, a form of employment which 
requires loyalty to the regime. Even though many Kurds remain 
in the army, few have advanced to officer status under the Ba'th 
regime. In addition, few Kurds are placed in sensitive areas of the 
military, such as the air force. 30 It is believed that Kurds in Syria are 
disproportionately positioned in the frontline of various conflicts, 
such as the Golan in 1973 and Lebanon since 1978. 

Despite having lost citizenship in the 1962 Hasakeh census or 
having been born as ajanib or maktoumeen, many Kurds of ajanib 
or maktoumeen status have reportedly been forced to undertake 
military service. According to Article 40 of the Syrian Constitution, 
all citizens shall be required to carry out their duty in defending Syria. 
Furthermore, Articles 43 and 44 of the Syrian Nationality Law states 
that Syrian national service of two and a half years is compulsory for 
anyone with Syrian nationality over age 19. Despite the law clearly 
limiting conscription to Syrian citizens, Syria has breached its own 
provisions in forcing stateless Kurds to complete military service. 


Syrian life revolves around identity cards: travelling between states, 
obtaining employment, claiming state benefits and subsidies, renting 
hotel rooms or properties; all require identity documents. Routine 
identity inspections increase the obstacles to be faced for those 
without the correct papers. Kurds continue to report discrimination 
in obtaining jobs and services and economic marginalization has 
placed them in a position of vulnerability. 

Ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds face discrimination and practical 
problems from birth through to death due to their lack of nationality 
and corresponding lack of paperwork. Although the Syrian government 
says that its intention in removing citizenship was to deal with 
'foreigners' who had unlawfully entered the country, each successive 
government has failed to do anything about these alleged 'foreigners' 
for over 40 years. Instead of attempting to repatriate them to the 

The Civil Rights of Kurds in Syria 105 

countries they allegedly travelled from, or even reinstating citizenship 
for Kurds who could prove their nationality, the government has left 
these Kurds in limbo. Children born to these Kurds are placed in the 
same state of limbo in defiance of Syria's own nationality laws. The 
stateless Kurds constitute an economically, politically, and socially 
marginalized section of the Syrian population that is subject to daily 
discrimination and imposed hardship. 

A further fallacy can also be seen in the Syrian government's 
argument that the Kurds who were affected by the 1962 census 
had their citizenship removed because they were foreigners who 
had illegally entered Syria and not entitled to citizenship. Syrian 
citizenship can be granted to foreign nationals after only five years' 
residence in Syria, but the allegedly 'foreign' Kurds who remained 
in Syria from 1962 to the present day have been unable to obtain 
citizenship in this way because they cannot show foreign nationality. 
Thus at the same time it describes the stateless Kurds as foreigners to 
deny them citizenship, the Syrian government also refuses to grant 
these Kurds citizenship after five years' residence because they are 
unable to prove they are foreign nationals - what might be called a 
catch-22 situation. 

The denial of citizenship to ajanib and maktoumeen Kurds is a 
violation of domestic and international laws that guarantee citizenship 
and nationality to those peoples discussed above. Furthermore the 
act of stripping Syrian citizenship from a large proportion of the 
members of one ethnic group and continuing to deny it to them, 
as well as violating both Syrian and international laws related to 
nationality itself, breach numerous other clauses in both Syrian and 
international law that relate to freedom from racial discrimination 
and the rights of the child 

Despite Bashar al-Asad stating publicly on more than one occasion 
that a solution to the condition of the stateless Kurds in Syria would 
be found, his comments have been in relation to around 20,000 
Kurds who will apparently be given Syrian citizenship. This begs 
the question of what will happen to the remaining 200,000 or more 
Kurds without citizenship even if al-Asad's promises are carried out. 
Moreover, given that no action has yet been taken on restoring 
citizenship, the possibility of even 20,000 Kurds regaining their 
citizenship appears low. 


The Political Rights 
of Kurds in Syria 

'Every citizen shall have the right to express his opinion publicly 
and freely, in speech, writing and other forms of expression and to 
participate in the work and control and the voicing of constructive 
criticism aimed to ensure the safety or the structure of the Homeland 
and the Nation and to enhance the socialist regime.' 

Article 38, Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic 

'Citizens shall have the right of assembly and peaceful demonstration 
within the principles of the Constitution and law shall regulate 
this right.' 

Article 39, Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic 

Since the accession of the Ba'th Party to power in 1963 and despite 
the existence of seven separate parties comprising the Progressive 
National Front, the previously discussed lack of competition between 
the parties means that Syria is effectively a one party state. No parties 
other than those in the PNF are permitted to exist, and consequently 
there are no laws governing political parties. Despite comments by 
the Syrian authorities on the potential to bring in laws permitting 
new political parties to join the PNF, nothing has occurred. 

Although political activity is illegal outside the auspices of the 
Ba'th Party or PNF, twelve Kurdish political parties operate covertly, 
trying to present Kurdish demands and represent the Kurdish 
section of Syrian society. 1 None of the Kurdish parties focus on the 
establishment of a Kurdish state or Kurdish autonomy within Syria. 
Instead, the parties seek Syrian recognition of the Kurdish population 
and political representation of the Kurdish interests. 

The parties are divided by several factors, including ideological 
differences and the scale and openness of political activities. Because 
the Syrian government has also permitted the Iraqi Kurdish KDP 
and PUK parties and the Turkish Kurdish PKK party to operate on 


The Political Rights of Kurds in Syria 107 

occasion in Syria, individual Syrian Kurdish political parties are also 
split along party lines according to allegiance with the different 
external leaderships and struggles. As a result, although there is no 
official link between parties, Kurdish politics in Syria often reflect 
Kurdish party politics and divisions in Iraq and Turkey. 

Political activities 

Political activities in the public sphere are very limited, reflecting 
the fear that people have of the security services and the fear that 
they will be arrested for any political activity. The main activities 
that non-PNF parties undertake are lobbying and protest actions 
such as demonstrations and writing letters to the president 
highlighting concerns or expressing opposition to policies and arrests 
of individuals. 

1990 parliamentary expansions saw an increased number of seats 
available for independent candidates; some of which were taken by 
Kurdish politicians, including the leaders of Syrian Kurdish political 
parties. However, in order to receive security clearance and be 
permitted to run for parliament, potential independent candidates 
must adhere to Ba'thist ideology, thus it is difficult for an independent 
Kurdish candidate to officially represent Kurdish interests. 2 Kurdish 
members of parliament are thus limited to addressing less crucial 
issues such as the provincial division of resources. 

Because they are excluded from official public politics and are 
unable to participate in public affairs, the Kurdish political parties have 
limited political mandates, their agendas tending instead to focus on 
the private sphere of life - cultural, educational and social issues. Thus 
the parties can be found teaching Kurdish language and history, 3 and 
organizing events, intellectual debates, traditional festivals, weddings, 
sports and other cultural events. In this way they contribute to the 
maintenance of Kurdish culture for future generations. 


Under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political 
Rights (hereafter 'ICCPR'), the right to peaceful assembly shall be 
recognized and no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this 
right other than those necessary in a democratic society. 

The Syrian Constitution states that people have the right to meet 
and demonstrate peacefully within the principles of the Constitution 
and as regulated by law. 4 However, the law that 'regulates the exercise 

108 The Kurds in Syria 

of this right' is emergency law given the Constitution's inferiority 
to the state of emergency laws. This subordination permits state 
of emergency laws to impose draconian restrictions on freedom of 
association, assembly and demonstration. A further problem with 
the stipulation in the Constitution is that Kurdish protests including 
a demand for the recognition of the Kurdish nation in Syria can 
be condemned and its participants arrested, on the basis that they 
challenge the Arab character of the people, incite sectarian strife and 
threaten the unity of the state. 

Demonstrations are frequently met with police violence and arrests. 
The small numbers of people attending demonstrations in Damascus 
reflect the harsh punishments that are meted out for political actions 
that confront the state or Ba'th regime. For Kurdish political parties, 
protests and demonstrations are the main ways they can draw 
attention to the situation of stateless Kurds, non-recognition of the 
Kurdish community or language in Syria, and the problems faced in 
forming cultural or sports clubs and associations. Yet the majority 
of Kurdish protests are met with the arrests of many individuals and 
forcible dispersion of protesters. 

Kurdish protests and demonstrations did not occur prior to March 
1990, when several Kurds were elected as independent candidates 
to the Syrian parliament. Encouraged by this, many Kurds staged 
a demonstration against the denial of citizenship to ajanib and 
maktoumeen Kurds. This first demonstration ended when the protesters 
attempted to present the president with a list of demands. 5 

Over the years, although state suppression of demonstrations has 
continued, international events such as the intervention in Iraq in 
the early 1990s and repeated intervention in 2003 have given Kurdish 
political parties a renewed degree of confidence, causing them to 
become more vocal. US-led intervention in Iraq in March 2003 and 
the gains made by the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan influenced Kurdish 
confidence in Syria significantly, contributing to the general political 
confidence among Kurds in Syria. Although an increased number 
of demonstrations and public protests have occurred more recently, 
few large-scale demonstrations were seen until the events of March 
2004 in Qamishli. 

On 10 December 2002 - International Human Rights Day - 
approximately 150 Partiya YekitiKurdi li Suriye members demonstrated 
outside the Syrian parliament. Their slogans and placards called for 
citizenship to be granted to Kurds, a removal of the ban on Kurdish 
language and demanded respect for human rights in Syria. This 

The Political Rights of Kurds in Syria 109 

demonstration was one of the first major demonstrations since the 
Ba'th Party came to power. 

After attending the demonstration, two members of the party 
leadership, Hasan Salih and Marwan 'Uthman were later arrested 
and charged with belonging to a secret organization and with inciting 
religious and ethnic strife. By October 2003, this charge had been 
altered to the crime of attempting to sever a part of the Syrian state 
and annex it to a foreign country. The two men were released from 
prison on 22 February 2004. 

On 25 June 2003, approximately 380 children attended a 
peace march to the UNICEF building in Damascus to mark World 
Children's Day, carrying flowers and banners asking for freedom 
of cultural expression and language and human rights. Before the 
children reached their destination, more than 400 security personnel 
intervened and forcibly dispersed the crowd, arresting seven men. 

The seven men were tried in the Syrian State Security Court on 
27 June 2004, charged with 'belonging to a secret organisation' and, 
'attempting to sever part of the Syrian territory and annex it to a 
foreign state'. According to Amnesty International, their trial was 
unfair. All seven were sentenced to five years, which was reduced to 
between one and two years, allowing the four men sentenced to one 
year to be released having already served their time. 6 

On International Human Rights Day 2003, again on 10 December, 
Kurdish parties and Syrian human rights organizations participated 
in a further demonstration demanding the respect of international 
human rights standards and rights for all Syria's citizens. Between 
300 and 1,200 7 people gathered in front of the Syrian parliament 
and attempted to present a petition signed by Arab and Kurdish 
democracy activists, advocates and political party representatives. 
However, in contrast to the policy adopted in recent demonstrations, 
the Prime Minister, Naji al-'Utari refused to accept the petition. 

Disproportionate force against demonstrators occurred again in 
March 2004 following the deaths of several Kurds in Qamishli. 8 When 
thousands of Kurds took to the streets to protest the deaths and general 
oppression of the Ba'th Party, they were met with military force. The 
police, security services and military forces used live ammunition 
and shrapnel bullets to quell demonstrations, inflicting bullet-related 
injuries on hundreds of Kurds. Many then received inadequate medical 
treatment because they were arrested and detained prior to obtaining 
treatment, or because security personnel had insisted that injured 
persons be treated in state hospitals where there were insufficient 

110 The Kurds in Syria 

facilities to treat all the wounded. 9 Suppression of the demonstrations 
was justified on the grounds of preserving Syrian unity. Hundreds 
of Kurds were arrested during and after the demonstrations and by 
early 2005 many Kurds remained in detention, having not yet been 
tried for any alleged offences. 10 

Arrests and detention 

Although people do not 'disappear' in Syria on the same scale as 
disappearances of the 1980s and although political detentions have 
also decreased, there are still many prisoners of conscience in Syrian 
jails. Many events have contributed to the number of individuals 
currently detained for their political opinions: the arrests of civil 
society and human rights activities in the 2001 crackdown on the 
Damascus Spring movement; arrests of individuals accused of having 
connections to the banned Muslim Brotherhood; the arrests of many 
Kurds during the buildup to and aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War; 
and the uprising of March 2004, following which many hundreds 
of Kurds were arrested. Although many of these Kurds were released 
soon after their initial arrest, alleging they had been tortured, many 
Kurds remain in detention or are unaccounted for. 11 Reports suggest 
that more than 20 Kurdish children between the ages of 13 and 17 
were arrested in the March 2004 protests, several of whom had not 
even been in the vicinity of the unrest. Some of these children are 
known to have been subjected to torture while in detention. 12 

Kurds can be arrested for both cultural and political activities 
in Syria. Activities such as writing, distributing and even reading 
information on Kurdish culture and history are deemed to be political 
and can lead to arrest. Kurds arrested and detained for such 'crimes' 
are often subjected to torture or ill-treatment. It is believed that 
family members of political activists have often been arrested merely 
because of their association with the detainee, and family members 
of both political activists and exiles are reportedly intimidated. 
These tactics of intimidation and setting examples of individual 
families are intended to prevent others from becoming involved in 
political activity. 

On 8 August 2003, Khalil Mustafa was arrested for his political 
beliefs 13 and subjected to severe torture while in detention. Khalil is 
believed to have died in custody on 10 August 2003. Although his 
body was handed over to his family, the village mukhabarat prevented 
them from burying Khalil in his home village as is customary. 
Instead, the family was forced to bury him in Aleppo. 14 After al- 

The Political Rights of Kurds in Syria 111 

Jazeera and other media stations broadcast information on Khalil's 
death, prompting the political security forces (al-Amn al-Siyassi) to 
come and question Khalil's relatives, his brother Hasan Mustafa was 
arrested on 18 October 2003. Hasan was held incommunicado at an 
unknown location until his release on 30 January 2004, when he 
required medical treatment for the after effects of the torture he had 
suffered whilst in custody. 15 

During 2003 and 2004, trials of political detainees have often 
been accompanied by demonstrations outside the court building 
and delegations of lawyers and representatives of many European 
consulates have attended the proceedings. It is believed that the 
release of Marwan 'Uthman and Hasan Salih on 22 February 2004 
was secured partly by the involvement of international NGOs 16 
and representatives of European governments in their case. While 
international pressures on Syria are extracting a degree of transparency 
in the judicial proceedings in more high profile cases such as these, 
the arrest and lengthy detention of Kurds with no international or 
internal pressure networks or support go unreported. It is common 
for a layperson to be detained in prison for more than five years 
for an offence such as possessing Kurdish written material of a 
'political' nature. 


The press 

Under the 1965 Revolution Protection Law, offences considered to 
violate the implementation of the socialist state system are punishable 
by lifelong hard labour. Offences of this sort are not restricted to 
deeds but include word of mouth or writing, or any other form of 
expression or publication. 17 This law provides a good introduction 
to the severely limited press freedom within Syria. Publications in 
Kurdish were initially banned, seized and destroyed by then-President 
Adib al-Shishakli between 1951 and 1954, and were banned again 
from 1958 to 1961, during the years of the United Arab Republic. 
This prohibition on Kurdish publications continues under the Ba'th 
Party today. 

All Syrian newspapers are official or semi-official, representing 
the parties of the Progressive National Front. Within newspapers, 
only the official opinion supporting Ba'th Party policy is permitted 
to be published. Because working for the press in Syria requires a 

112 The Kurds in Syria 

permit obtainable from the Ministry of Information and security 
forces, many journalists are prevented from working or have their 
requests for permits denied due to alleged impartial covering of 
Syrian policies. 18 

Under a 2001 Publication Act, the Prime Minister, at the request 
of the Ministry of Information, may cancel a permit granted to any 
newspaper, magazine or publication; furthermore, in doing so the 
Prime Minister is not required to provide reasons for doing so. At least 
15 permits have been cancelled since 2000 due to the conditions and 
complications imposed on publications. One newspaper, Al Domari, 
faced many obstacles prior to having its permit cancelled by the Prime 
Minister in July 2003; many of these obstacles were caused by the 
former Minister of Information Adnan Umran. 19 

Although officially independent newspapers are now allowed, 
closer inspection reveals that this is not the case. For example Abyad 
wa Aswad, sold as an independent political magazine, is owned by 
the son of the new Syrian Defence Minister. 20 

Decree Number 50 

Prior to 2001, the 1949 General Law on Printed Matter covered all 
aspects of printing and publishing. In 2001, Decree 50 was passed by 
the Syrian government as a replacement for the 1949 law. Applying 
to publishers, printers, journalists, editors, authors, distributors and 
bookshop owners, the Decree consists of over 50 articles, all aimed at 
restricting print media freedom and increasing state control. Human 
rights organizations have condemned the Decree for 'keeping the 
Syrian media in the Stone Age'. 21 

The Decree lays out the requirements for licensing, ownership and 
operation of print publications. It outlines information that must be 
provided to the government on a daily basis and restricts a variety 
of subjects from being published. Finally, the Decree sets out the 
punishments for violation of any of its regulations. 

According to Article 16, only Arab Syrian nationals may own or 
manage publishing houses and printing presses. Under the new 
law, the Prime Minister can deny licences to both publishers and 
printers for any reason related to the public interest. The government 
is authorized to monitor all publications. Under Article 8, printing 
companies must provide copies of any printed material to the 
Syrian ministry of Information on the day of printing. By requiring 
printers and publishers to provide information including the date 
of printing, identity of the printing company and number of 

The Political Rights of Kurds in Syria 113 

copies printed, printers and publishers take on responsibility for all 
published material. 

Article 9 permits the Ministry of Information to ban a publication 
and punish the printers, distributors and sellers if the publication 
infringes upon national security or offends public morality. 22 If 
the law is violated, harsh prison sentences and heavy fines can be 
imposed on printers and publishers. These punishments can be 
imposed if published material is linked to the instigation of, or 
praise for crimes; 23 if a report is deemed to be fabricated; 24 or if the 
published material is deemed to harm the public interest, national 
security or national unity. 25 These crimes are not clearly defined and 
this vagueness places a heavy burden on authors, editors, publishers 
and distributors. If their interpretation of the law is different to the 
current interpretation taken by the authorities, they face harsh 
punishment. They consequently practise self-censorship, erring 
on the side of caution and not publishing material that might in 
any way be unacceptable to the authorities. The law thus has the 
effect of stifling freedom of expression within the Syrian press and 
publication sector. 

This lack of free expression has a disproportionate effect on the 
Kurdish section of the Syrian population by denying them access 
to Kurdish press and publications. Kurdish publications may be 
deemed to seek constitutional change or to threaten national unity by 
association with Kurdish demands for national recognition. Because 
Kurdish cultural expression is a political issue within Syria, even 
clearly 'innocent' Kurdish cultural publications may go unpublished. 
Besides the unwillingness of publishers to print and distribute Kurdish 
materials, many Kurds have been arrested merely for possessing or 
distributing Kurdish publications. In early 2002 Ibrahim Nasan, a 
Kurdish author, was arrested and imprisoned for distributing cultural 
and educational material in the Kurdish language. 26 

The net result of this is that authors and publishers who do wish 
to publish Kurdish material in Syria are instead forced to send their 
work for publication in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and 
then risk smuggling the finished work back into Syria. 


All television and satellite stations are under state ownership, 
belonging to the 'General Corporation for Broadcasting and TV'. 
On 15 March 2004 Abdul-Razzaq Salim, reporter for A1 Arabiyya 
Satellite Channel, was arrested whilst covering the events in Qamishli 

114 The Kurds in Syria 

during the Kurdish demonstrations. His audio and video tapes were 
confiscated and he was released several days later with a warning. 27 

The internet in Syria 

Despite online connection that was established back in 1997, internet 
access is limited to a privileged minority of no more than 80,000 
people throughout Syria. 28 Online content is filtered and email closely 
monitored. On 24 July 2003, 29-year-old Kurdish journalism student, 
Massud Hamid was arrested whilst sitting an exam at Damascus 
University. His arrest came after photographs were posted on <www.> of the peaceful Kurdish demonstration in June 2003 
outside UNICEF headquarters in Damascus. He was given a three-year 
prison sentence in October 2004, after having already spent 14 months 
in prison where he was reportedly subjected to mistreatment. 29 Other 
individuals who have written for internet sites have been accused of 
'publishing false information outside Syria'. 30 

Syria's two internet service providers are both government- 
controlled. The state-run Syrian Telecommunications Establishment 
filters hundreds of websites which it deems to be pornographic, pro- 
Israeli or critical of the regime. For example, access to the website of 
the Syrian Human Rights Committee has been blocked for several 
years. 31 Access to two Kurdish websites, <> and 
<>, was blocked in mid-March 2004; the sites, 
which are run from Germany, had shown news, pictures and video 
clips about demonstrations by the Kurdish minority. 32 

Although Bashar al-Asad is said to be the country's most 
prominent advocate of the internet, it is reported that his interest 
in allowing public internet access has been opposed by security and 
intelligence officials. 33 


Despite apparent reforms, press freedom remains extremely limited 
in Syria, due to the high level of state control imposed on it. Use of 
the internet is so limited that few Syrians can access it to research or 
publish information. Even in the field of publications, where Syrian 
law does not explicitly prohibit publishing in languages other than 
Arabic, the fear of prosecution for a 'political offence' means that 
most publishers and printers are reluctant to publish Kurdish material. 
Since Decree 50 was passed, this reluctance has increased as people 
attempt to avoid the revocation of publishing licences, heavy fines 

The Political Rights of Kurds in Syria 115 

or prison sentences. This total clampdown on publication and press 
freedom has had a disproportionate effect on the Kurdish section 
of Syrian society by denying them access to Kurdish publications 
and newspapers. 

Their freedom of expression, assembly and association suppressed 
by the state, Kurds in Syria are effectively denied a political platform 
from which to raise their problems. The authorities justify this by 
arguing that Kurdish political expression is linked to separatist 
intentions or that the Kurds may be exploited by 'foreign parties' 
that are hostile to the Syrian state and Ba'th Party. By adhering to 
nationalist political rhetoric and defining the Syrian state as being 
ethnically and nationally Arab, Kurdish interests are excluded 
from social, economic and political accommodation, denying the 
opportunity for meaningful political representation of Syria's largest 
minority group. 


Kurdish Cultural Rights 

'In those states in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities 
exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the 
right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy 
their own culture, to profess and practice their religion, or to use 
their own language.' Article 27, International Covenant on Civil 
and Political Rights; Article 30, Convention on the Rights of the 
Child; Article 2, Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to 
National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992) 

'Minorities shall not be deprived of their right to enjoy their 
culture or to follow the teachings of their religions.' Article 37, 
Arab Charter of Human Rights 

Nations define themselves through the notion of shared languages, 
culture and history. Within states, different communities may use 
different languages and follow a range of cultural activities to define 
themselves as belonging to their specific group. The rights of minority 
groups to enjoy their culture, practise their religions and use their 
own languages are viewed with such fundamental importance that 
they are protected by international legal covenants, including the 
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Closer to Syria, 
the Arab Charter of Human Rights also protects the right of minority 
groups to enjoy their culture. 

As a group constituting an ethnic minority in Syria, Iraq, Iran, 
Turkey and republics of the former Soviet Union, the Kurds therefore 
fall under the protection of these international and regional 
instruments and should be free to enjoy the many facets of Kurdish 
culture: its language, history, traditions and religions. Unfortunately, 
as with civil and political rights, Syria makes the enjoyment of 
Kurdish culture difficult, if not impossible, for many of the Kurds 
within its borders. 

Syrian restrictions exist on the use and practice of the Kurdish 
language, reflecting the practices also found in Turkey, Iraq and Iran 
at various points during recent history. The policy of suppressing 


Kurdish Cultural Rights 117 

Kurdish language and culture is intended to forcibly assimilate the 
Kurds into the majority culture of the respective country; within 
Turkey, the Kurds are described as Turkish; within Syria, the aim is 
to assimilate the Kurds to the Arab culture and identity. 


After the French Mandate ended without the French securing 
guarantees for Kurdish cultural rights, the Kurds began to face 
increasing numbers of measures intended to prevent the teaching 
and learning of Kurdish. As a result of these restrictions, many Kurds 
speak both Kurdish and Arabic in urban areas such as Damascus, 
although Kurmanji remains the main language of Kurds in northern 
Syria. As mentioned previously, Kurdish knowledge of Arabic is also 
limited by the fact that most Kurdish children do not begin to learn 
Arabic until the age of five. 

Despite there being a sizeable minority Kurdish population in Syria, 
Kurdish is not recognized as an official language. It is not taught in 
schools and when Kurds with Syrian citizenship qualify as teachers, 
they are not permitted to speak Kurdish whilst on the schools' 
premises. Even if parents wish their children to study the Kurdish 
language, the authorities do not permit private language schools 
to teach Kurdish. In contrast, other minority groups including the 
Armenians, Circassians and Assyrians have been able to open private 
language schools. As a result of this, Kurdish can only be taught 
informally in private houses. 1 

The printing and distribution of Kurdish books and other materials 
is extremely difficult. Kurdish groups pay large sums for books to 
be printed secretly or instead illegally import Kurdish books from 
Lebanon and northern Iraq. 

Decree Number 1012/S/25, issued in 1986, forbade the use of 
Kurdish in the workplace, cinemas and cafes. 2 Other decrees have 
continued to limit the use of languages other than Arabic. 3 

Many towns and villages in the predominantly Kurdish regions 
of Syria have also been affected by the ban on the Kurdish language. 
From the 1970s onwards, the names of many Kurdish villages were 
changed to Arabic under directives such as Directive No. 15801 of 
May 1977, under which the minister of local administration ordered 
that the Kurdish names of many towns and villages in Afrin region, 
Aleppo governorate, be replaced with Arabic names. Thus, Kobaniya is 

118 The Kurds in Syria 

now 'Ain al-'Arab, Girdeem is now Sa'diyya, Chilara is now Jowadiyya 
and so forth. 4 

From 1992 onwards, the ban on Kurdish language widened to even 
include Kurdish names, as the authorities of Hasakeh province began 
refusing to register children with Kurdish names. This resulted from 
orders by the Minister of the Interior that any parents who wished 
to give their child a non-Arab name must obtain approval from the 
local security forces. The reason given for this was that the Arabic 
alphabet does not contain certain sounds contained within other 
languages; however this policy has had a disproportionate effect on 
the Kurdish population. 5 

In 1994, Hasakeh's governor Subhi Harb, gave owners of Kurdish- 
named businesses one week in which to change the name of the 
business to Arabic. He ordered the city and town councils of the region 
not to issue permits to shops, hotels, restaurants and other businesses 
if they used Kurdish names and to threaten closure and prosecution 
to existing Kurdish-named businesses if they failed to change the 
business name. On a 1995 trip to Syria, Human Rights Watch saw 
signs in Arabic, Armenian and Russian, but none in Kurdish. 6 

When Human Rights Watch asked the Syrian government in 1996 
to explain the issues raised above relating to the Kurdish language, the 
government failed to respond to many of the issues raised, responding 
only to the issue of the ban on Kurdish in the workplace, 

the Syrian Constitution stipulates that Syria is part pf the greater 
Arab nation and that Arabic is its official language. It stipulates 
further that the ban on the use of foreign languages in the 
workplace is not limited to the Kurdish language but includes all 
languages other than Arabic. 

and noting that certain letters in other alphabets such as Kurdish 
were not included in the Arabic alphabet. 7 

Whilst the government may be able to argue the existence of a 
legitimate interest in using only Arabic names for businesses, the fact 
that other languages than Kurdish were still permitted shows they 
apply this policy in a discriminatory manner. Likewise, the fact that 
Kurdish language schools and clubs are prohibited whilst Armenian, 
Assyrian and even French or English language schools exist serves 
only to highlight the discriminatory application of official policies. 

Under Article 4(3) of the 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons 
Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, 

Kurdish Cultural Rights 119 

states should take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, 
persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities 
to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother 
tongue. Although not legally binding, the fact that Syrian practices 
completely contradict the recommended approach demonstrates the 
lack of respect accorded to the Kurds in Syria. 


A key Kurdish tradition is Newroz, which celebrates the Kurdish New 
Year on 21 March. The festival also represents the victory of the 
oppressed over tyranny: according to legend, over 2,500 years ago 
the Kurds were ruled by King Zuhak, who one day grew two serpents 
from his shoulders. To prevent them eating his brain, King Zuhak 
fed the brains of two children to the serpents each day. Eventually 
Kawa, a brave blacksmith who had lost several of his children in this 
way, led a rebellion against Zuhak, using fires on hill tops as a signal 
for others to join together and defeat the King. After Zawa defeated 
Zuhak, the people celebrated their new freedom. 

In keeping with the legend, Newroz is usually celebrated with 
large bonfires on hill tops, where people dress in the Kurdish colours 
and sing and dance. To the Kurds, Newroz represents the passing of 
winter, the coming of a new year and also represents freedom, life 
and revolution. 

Given Syria's general antipathy towards the Kurds, it is easy to see 
that Newroz causes tension each year, as it also does in Turkey. As 
a result, it has periodically been forbidden in Syria and even when 
permitted is subject to many restrictions. Kurds are often prevented 
from wearing the Kurdish colours of red, yellow and green and 
are also often prevented from travelling to celebrations. 8 During 
celebrations, Syrian police and security forces form a heavy presence 
in the Kurdish areas and the size of Newroz celebrations in each 
area is dependent upon the discretion of provincial governors and 
security offices. 9 

In 1986, the Newroz festival saw large scale Kurdish demonstrations 
in Damascus interrupted by the police opening fire, causing the death 
of a young boy. Other Kurds were arrested following the events in 
Damascus and elsewhere, including in Afrin, where several Kurds 
were killed when the police attempted to disperse celebrators and 
protestors. 10 Following these events, Hafiz al-Asad passed a decree 
declaring 21 March to be Mothers Day; allegedly believing that by 

120 The Kurds in Syria 

turning 21 March into an Arab national holiday, tensions would be 
defused. Unfortunately, tensions still exist, as was seen during the 
1995 Newroz festival. The festival had been prohibited that year, 
allegedly due to the death of Hafiz al-Asad's son in a car crash the 
previous year. When Kurds began to gather in order to celebrate 
their festival, around 60 were arrested by Syrian police. Arrests 
occurred again in 1997 when the authorities accused several Kurds 
of distributing Kurdish nationalist songs. 11 

The most recent Newroz celebrations have been more subdued: 
2003, due to the ongoing Iraq war and 2004, out of respect to the 
many Kurds killed, injured or arrested the previous week following 
the events in Qamishli. 


A core element of Kurdish culture, music has been targeted by the 
authorities for over 50 years. As early as 1954, Kurdish gramophone 
recordings and publications were seized and their owners detained 
following the overthrow of Adib al-Shishakli. 12 An order issued in 
1987 by the Culture Minister, Najar al-'Attar, forbade the playing and 
circulation of Kurdish music and videos, although the enforcement of 
this policy has relaxed somewhat over the years and Kurdish music is 
now tolerated in Kurdish towns and quarters of urban areas. Even so, 
the music on sale is still restricted, as sellers and distributors still face 
imprisonment if they sell Kurdish music which could be perceived 
as being political or nationalist in nature. The singing of non-Arabic 
songs at weddings and festivals was prohibited by Decree 1865/S/25 
in December 1989. 13 Tolerance of Kurdish music seems to depend 
on the political climate in the region so that, during the buildup to 
the 2003 Iraq War, increased restrictions were seen. 


Although Kurds continue to refer to towns and villages by their 
traditional Kurdish names, a part of the town's Kurdish character 
has been forever lost by the new Arabic name. The Kurdish history 
that the original name evoked has effectively been wiped from the 
official Syrian consciousness though its Arabization policy. The state 
authorities benefit because they can more easily argue that the Kurds 
migrated from Turkey and Iraq to settle in Syria, since the loss of a 
town’s Kurdish name and identity makes it more difficult for Kurds 

Kurdish Cultural Rights 121 

to claim a historical presence in the region as inhabitants as opposed 
to a migrant population. 

This insistence that the Kurds are a migrant population is further 
bolstered by the state's denial of Kurdish history in the region. 
Kurdish individuals have played their part in the rich tapestry that 
makes up Syrian history: they have helped to form governments; 
they have participated in the army and in other professions; and they 
have contributed in the development of Syrian society. Yet barely any 
mention is made of them in Syrian history books and they are instead 
described as a migrant group. The removal of Kurdish place names 
provides an additional benefit to the state by bolstering its argument 
that the Kurds form a non-native group within Syria; the lack of 
Kurdish-named areas proves there was no historical Kurdish presence, 
according to the state. However, this official line is contradicted by 
authors such as Basile Nikitine . 14 

The prohibition on expressions of Kurdish identity is a feature 
shared by all states with Kurdish inhabitants. The Kurds have 
responded by clinging to whatever shreds of cultural identity 
they can in order to preserve their heritage, but this serves only to 
increase suspicions about Kurdish intentions, causing even harsher 
suppression. Within Syria this suppression, when combined with the 
existence of a state security and intelligence network that pervades 
all aspects of daily life, has succeeded in creating a fear of any public 
expression of Kurdish cultural identity. 


The consequences of the official Arabization policies of the 1960s 
and 1970s continue to have serious implications today. As the Syrian 
government has failed to reverse the effects of the 1962 census, the 
ramifications of the census worsen each year as more children are 
born to stateless Kurds and the stateless Kurdish population increases. 
Although the Arab Belt policy was suspended in 1976, the villages 
built under the policy are still standing and the relocated Arab 
migrants and displaced Kurds remain where they were sent in the 
1970s. Biased redistribution of land taken from Kurdish landowners 
was never corrected and many formerly wealthy landowners lost 
both their lands and nationality overnight. 

The Hasakeh census, Arab Belt policy and associated land reforms 
have all combined to alter the demographic structure of Kurdish 
regions in Syria and remove the dominance of Kurds in the Jazira, 
an area rich in natural resources. The perceived threat of separatism 
caused the Syrian authorities to implement enforced disintegration 
of Kurdish communities, whilst failed attempts to assimilate the 
Kurds with Arab Syrians simply resulted in further 'dilution' of the 
Kurdish regions. Land reforms across the Kurdish areas of Syria have 
succeeded in establishing physical divisions between once contiguous 
Kurdish communities. 

Stripping Kurds of their citizenship and land and placing obstacles 
in the path of education and employment has had a negative socio- 
economic effect on the Kurds in Syria. Kurds affected by these policies, 
both directly or though inheriting their consequences, are largely 
impoverished and consequently unable to alter their economic, 
legal or social status. This has led to mass urban migration from 
Kurdish areas to cities as families attempt to cling to their property 
in the north by sending their children to cities such as Damascus 
and Aleppo to find menial work and an income with which to 
support their families, further reducing the Kurdish population in 
traditionally Kurdish areas of Syria. Whole new areas in the outskirts 
of Damascus have been built illegally by Kurdish migrants, primarily 
from al-Hasakeh province because they cannot buy or rent property 
anywhere in Syria. 1 

Many other Kurds have left Syria to find a better quality of life and 
reported encouragement of Kurds to leave Syria by those connected 


Conclusion 123 

with the Ba'th regime further impacts on the Kurdish population 
in Syria. By failing to address the many problems affecting the 
Kurdish population in Syria, Syria fails to meet international and 
domestic standards. 

Regionally, all of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran have used the Kurds as 
tools against their neighbours, whilst working together on the shared 
interest of preventing Kurdish gains in one state on the grounds that 
they would necessarily affect the demands and aspirations of Kurds 
in another. Iraqi Kurdish support for the US-led invasion of Iraq and 
the inclusion of the Iraqi Kurds in the centre of the political process 
of determining the future of Iraq have increased anti-Kurdish policy 
and sentiment within the ruling regime in Syria and among its Arab 
majority. Both aid to and discrimination against the Kurds regionally 
has affected the situation for the Kurds of Syria. 

Since Bashar al-Asad came to power in 2000, regional and 
international events have also conspired to place Syria in an 
increasingly delicate position and have had a significant effect 
on Syrian foreign and domestic policy. The international war on 
terror, the 2003 Iraq War and events in the Lebanon have redefined 
Syria's relations with both the West and its neighbours in the Middle 
East. US policy has shifted from 'constructive engagement' with 
Syria to public calls for Syrian accountability and compliance with 
the US Middle Eastern agenda, drawing Syria to the forefront of 
Western attention. 

Recent events have also served to reinforce Ba'th Party perceptions 
that Syria is under threat from the West and other states in the region, 
and that these external forces are already working within Syria by 
fomenting political dissent. This perception of increased threat has 
thus far served only to further entrench Syria's 'hardliners' and the 
'old-guard', further thwarting democratization. Associating the Kurds 
with these external forces has also reinforced the belief that the Kurds 
are a potential threat to the Syrian state and Ba'th regime, placing 
the Kurds under increased measures aimed at protecting the unity of 
the state and Arab nation. The increasing numbers of Kurds arrested 
in recent years is testimony that hardliners in Syria are attempting 
to reassert their hold over the country, and that reform in Syria is by 
no means democratization. 

This book has shown that the Kurds of Syria face particular forms 
of discrimination in Syria solely on the basis of their ethnic identity, 
which the Syrian state cannot or will not accommodate. Despite 
public overtures made by Bashar al-Asad, little has been done to 

124 The Kurds in Syria 

resolve this discrimination. Although until now, international 
attention has been fixed on the Kurds of Iraq, current events in Iraq, 
Lebanon and changing US policy may finally serve to shift this focus 
across to the Kurds of Syria. 

Although many of these incidents are still too recent to predict 
what effect they will have either domestically within Syria, or on 
the Middle East region overall, it is clear that there will be some 
repercussions. Noting recent Iraqi and Palestinian elections, Israeli- 
Palestinian peace talks and peaceful demonstrations in Lebanon, 
there have been claims that democracy has arrived in the Middle East, 
heralding a new era for the region. However, it is too early to make 
this claim: despite Iraqi elections, there still remains resistance to the 
concept of a permanent Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq; 
despite anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon there were also larger, 
pro-Syrian demonstrations organized by Hezbollah, indicating that 
Syrian troop redeployment could cause instability in the region. 

The key question is how Bashar al-Asad amends Syrian foreign 
and domestic policy to reflect recent events. If Syria concedes too 
much externally, al-Asad knows that internal demands may increase. 
At the same time, if Syria does not concede externally, the US has 
made it clear that further action will be taken. The question is how 
Bashar al-Asad will react. He could refuse to concede to international 
demands, risking international action (whether by sanctions, force or 
other means) against Syria which may negatively affect the Kurdish 

Alternatively, al-Asad could concede to international demands 
regarding Lebanon whilst pre-empting potential domestic disturbance 
by providing token gestures such as the return of citizenship to a 
few thousand Kurds. In this way he can claim that he is dealing 
with domestic abuses of human rights and thus deflect international 
attention elsewhere, whilst in fact the token granting of citizenship 
to a small proportion of the stateless Kurds would not sufficiently 
deal with the situation of the Kurds in Syria. 

However, if the Kurds in Syria take advantage of the current 
situation to highlight their concerns and the lack of minority rights, 
it will be more difficult for al-Asad to take a course of action that 
does not adequately deal with the provision of such rights. If the 
international community is made fully aware of the daily problems 
suffered by Kurds in Syria, any action taken by al-Asad is likely to 
face deeper scrutiny to ensure it resolves Kurdish concerns. 

Appendix 1 

Extract from Treaty of Sevres 


Article 62 

A Commission sitting at Constantinople and composed of three 
members appointed by the British, French and Italian Governments 
respectively shall draft within six months from the coming into 
force of the present Treaty a scheme of local autonomy for the 
predominantly Kurdish areas lying east of the Euphrates, south of 
the southern boundary of Armenia as it may be hereafter determined, 
and north of the frontier of Turkey with Syria and Mesopotamia, 
as defined in Article 27, II (2) and (3). If unanimity cannot be 
secured on any question, it will be referred by the members of the 
Commission to their respective Governments. The scheme shall 
contain full safeguards for the protection of the Assyro-Chaldeans 
and other racial or religious minorities within these areas, and with 
this object a Commission composed of British, French, Italian, Persian 
and Kurdish representatives shall visit the spot to examine and decide 
what rectifications, if any, should be made in the Turkish frontier 
where, under the provisions of the present Treaty, that frontier 
coincides with that of Persia. 

Article 63 

The Turkish Government hereby agrees to accept and execute the 
decisions of both the Commissions mentioned in Article 62 within 
three months from their communication to the said Government. 

Article 64 

If within one year from the coming into force of the present Treaty 
the Kurdish peoples within the areas defined in Article 62 shall 
address themselves to the Council of the League of Nations in such 
a manner as to show that a majority of the population of these 
areas desires independence from Turkey, and if the Council then 
considers that these peoples are capable of such independence and 
recommends that it should be granted to them, Turkey hereby agrees 


126 The Kurds in Syria 

to execute such a recommendation, and to renounce all rights and 
title over these areas. 

The detailed provisions for such renunciation will form the subject 
of a separate agreement between the Principal Allied Powers and 

If and when such renunciation takes place, no objection will be 
raised by the Principal Allied Powers to the voluntary adhesion to such 
an independent Kurdish State of the Kurds inhabiting that part of 
Kurdistan which has hitherto been included in the Mosul vilayet. 

Appendix 2 
Syria's International 
Law Obligations 

Syria is a party to the international instruments which make provision 
to ensure respect for human dignity and basic human rights. Those 
to which it is party include the following: 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General 
Assembly Resolution 217A(III) on 10 December 1948. 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), of 16 
December 1966, (acceded to by the Syrian Arab Republic on 23 March 

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), 
of 16 December 1966 (acceded to by the Syrian Arab Republic 3 
January 1976). 

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial 
Discrimination (CERD), of 31 December 1965 (acceded to by the Syrian 
Arab Republic 21 May 1969). 

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against 
Women (CEDAW), of 1 March 1980 (acceded to by the Syrian Arab 
Republic on 27 April 2003). 

Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading 
Treatment or Punishment (CAT), of 10 December 1984 (acceded to by 
the Syrian Arab Republic on 18 September 2004). 

The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the 
Crime of Apartheid of 30 November 1973 (signed by the Syrian Arab 
Republic on 17 January 1974, ratified on 18 November 1988). 

The International Convention against Apartheid in Sports, of 10 December 
1985 (signed by the Syrian Arab Republic on 16 May 1986, ratified 
on 28 November 1988). 

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of 
Genocide, of 9 December 1948 (acceded to by the Syrian Arab Republic 
on 25 June 1955). 


128 The Kurds in Syria 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), of 30 November 1989 
(signed by the Syrian Arab Republic on 18 September 1990, ratified 
on 14 April 1993). 

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the 
involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (acceded to by the Syrian 
Arab Republic on 17 November 2003). 

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale 
of children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (acceded to by the 
Syrian Arab Republic on 15 June 2003). 

The Slavery Convention, of 25 September 1926; Protocol of 1953 
amending the Convention of 1926; The Slavery Convention of 1926, as 
amended (signed by the Syrian Arab Republic on 4 August 1954). 

The Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, 
and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, of 7 September 1956 
(acceded to by the Syrian Arab Republic on 17 April 1958). 

The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the First Additional Protocol 
of 1977. 


The Arab Charter on Human Rights, 1994, by the League of Arab states, 
of which Syria is a member. 

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which adopted the 
Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in 1990. Although it 
is not formerly binding to governments it represents a political 
commitment to uphold and respect human rights and the freedom 
of expression. 

The adoption of the Barcelona Declaration in 27-28 November 1995 
by fifteen countries of the European Union and twelve southern 
Mediterranean countries, including Syria, established the Euro- 
Mediterranean Partnership. Primarily a partnership to enhance economic, 
political and cultural relations between its members, it also calls for a 
commitment to respect basic human rights and freedoms. 

The Sana'a Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic Arab 
Media of 11 January 1996, sponsored by UNESCO and endorsed by 
UNESCO's General Conference in November 1997. Syria endorsed 
the principles and recommendations of the declaration at the 



1. Izady, Mehrdad (1992), The Kurds: A Concise Handbook (USA: Taylor & 
Francis Inc.), page 32. 

2. Izady, Prof. M.R., 'Kurdish History and Culture', taken from a lecture 
given at Harvard University (10 March 1983). 

3. See Encyclopaedia of Kurdistan available at <>. 

4. Izady, ‘Kurdish History and Culture'. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Izady, Mehrdad, ‘Exploring Kurdish Origins', lecture published in Kurdish 
Life No.5, Summer (1983). 

8. Nezan, Kendal, 'A Brief Survey of the History of the Kurds', presented 
to the International Paris Conference 'The Kurds: Human Rights and 
Cultural Identity' (14-18 October 1989), available in Collated Contributions 
& Messages published by Institut Kurde de Paris (March 1992), page 31. 

9. See Map 2. 

10. Cook, Helena (1995), The Safe Haven in Northern Iraq (London: University 
of Essex Human Rights Centre & KHRP). 

11. Yildiz, Kerim, and Deborah Russo (2000), Azerbaijan and Armenia: An 
Update on Ethnic Minorities and Human Rights (London: KHRP), page 1. 

12. McDowall, David (2000), A Modern History of the Kurds (London: I.B. 
Tauris), page 6. 

13. Ibid. 

14. See Chapter 6, 'Water Resources and Conflict', for more information on 
conflict over the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. See also Kurdish Human 
Rights Project (2001), If the River Were a Pen: The Ilisu Dam, the World 
Commission on Dams and Export Credit Reform (London: KHRP); Kurdish 
Human Rights Project (2002), Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam 
Construction on Syria and Iraq (London: KHRP); Kurdish Human Rights 
Project (2003), This is the Only Valley Where I Live: The Impact of the Munzur 
Dam (London: KHRP). 

15. See KHRP, Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and 

16. Meaning 'religious community' or 'people,' millet was used in Ottoman 
Turkey to refer to an autonomous religious community. Taken from 
Encyclopaedia Britannica available at <>. 

17. Meaning 'reorganization', tanzimat reforms were a series of reforms 
promulgated in the Ottoman Empire between 1839 and 1876 under 
the reigns of the sultans Abdiilmecid I and Abdiilaziz. See Encyclopaedia 
Britannica available at <>. 

18. Gurani is also the sacred language of adherents to the Ahl-I Haqq sect 
(see 'Religion' section below). 


130 The Kurds in Syria 

19. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 10. 

20. Izady, The Kurds, page 167. 

21. Izady, The Kurds. 

22. Hawar was published between 1932-35 and 1941-43. Celadet All Bedir- 
Xan is also referred to as Celadet All Bedirxan, Jeladet Ali Bedir Khan, 
Jeladet Aali Bedr Xan, Celadet Ali Bedirkhan, Mir Jeladet and Celadet Eli 

23. Nebez, Jamal, 'The Kurdish Language: From Oral Tradition to Written 
Language', lecture published by Washington Kurdish Alliance, London 
(2004), pages 57, 59-61. 

24. Izady, The Kurds. 'Yazdanism'. Reproduced by the Encyclopaedia of 
Kurdistan available at <>. 

25. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 10. 

26. Ibid., page 11. 

27. Izady, The Kurds, page 135. 

28. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 11. 

29. Ibid., page 12. 

30. Kurdish Partnership. Available at < 
religion, htmlx 


1. The Encyclopaedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval andModern, 6th edn, 
edited by Peter N. Stearns (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001). <www.>. [19/01/2005]; McDowall, David. (2000), A Modern 
History of the Kurds (London: I.B. Tauris), page 115. 

2. Encyclopaedia of World History; McDowall, Modem History of the Kurds, 
page 115. 

3. Wilson, Woodrow, Fourteen Points Speech (1918). Available from <http://>. 

4. Fromkin, D. (1989), A Peace to End All Peace (Avon Books), page 258. 

5. Mosul vilayet was the area of Northern Iraq which bordered Turkey. 

6. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 129. 

7. Ideology supporting the recovery of former territory that used to belong 
to a country but is now under foreign rule. 

8. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 130. 

9. Ibid., page 131. 

10. The Syrian border was not officially established at this stage. 

11. See Appendix 1 for the text of Sevres, Articles 62-64. 

12. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 142. 

13. Supporters of Mustafa Kemal Atatiirk and, today, adherents to his Turkish 
nationalist ideology and raison d’etat and protectors of the nation and 

14. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 140. 

15. Ibid., page 138. 

16. Ibid., page 142. 

17. The Treaty of Lausanne: Part III; Article 38. 

18. This party was established in 1945. 

Notes 131 

19. Ghassemlou, A.R. (1993), 'Kurdistan in Iran', in Chaliand, G. (1993), 
A People Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan (London: Interlink 
Books), pages 111-12. 

20. Chaliand, People Without a Country, pages 211-12. 

21. The 1934 Turkish Law of Resettlement divided the area into three zones. 
Inhabitants would be resettled from the mountainous zone for security 
reasons; Kurds would be resettled into the Turkish majority zone; and 
the final zone would see the Kurdish population diluted by settling Turks 
within it. This policy continued until 1946. Yildiz, Kerim and Tom Blass 
(2004), The Kurds in Iraq: The Past Present and Future (London: Pluto 

22. The 'Fayli' Kurds are Kurdish people who lived in Baghdad, in provincial 
centres such as Mandali, Khanaqin, Shahriban, Zuhayrat, Ba'quba, Kirkuk, 
and in surrounding areas. 

23. Middle East Watch and Physicians for Human Rights (1993), The Anfal 
Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan: The Destruction ofKoreme (USA: Human Rights 
Watch & Physicians for Human Rights) provides a case study on the 
village of Korerne and the events of the Anfal campaign. 

24. U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs (14 March 2003), 
Saddam's Chemical Weapons Campaign: Halabja: March 16, 1988. Available 
from <>. 

25. See also Faleh 'Abd al-Jabbar, 'Why the Intifada Failed', in Hazelton, Fran 
(ed.) (1994), Iraq since the Gulf War: Prospects for Democracy (London: Zed 
Books), chapter 7. 


1. Meaning 'Appeal' in Kurdish. 

2. McDowall, David (2000), A Modern History of the Kurds (London: I.B. 
Tauris), page 467. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ismet Cherif Vanly, in Kreyenbroek, P.G. and S. Sperl (1992), The Kurds: 
A Contemporary Overview (Oxford: Routledge), page 148. 

5. McDowall, Modern History of the Kurds, page 466. 

3 SYRIAN HISTORY: 1918-2005 

1. McDowall, David (1998), The Kurds of Syria (London: KHRP), page 6. 

2. Ibid. 

3. Hendriques, John (ed.) (2003), Syria: Issues and Historical Background (New 
York: Nova Science Publishers), page 73. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Particularly the al-Yousef and Shamdin families of Hayy al-Akrad 
in Damascus. McDowall, David (2000), A Modern History of the Kurds 
(London: I.B. Tauris), pages 467-8. 

6. Hinnebusch, Raymond (1990), Authoritarian Power and State Formation 
in Ba'thist Syria: Army, Party and Peasant (Oxford: Westview Press), pages 

132 The Kurds in Syria 

7. Ibid., page 72. 

8. For example, in 1949, under Colonel Husni Za'im and in November 1951 
under Adib al-Shishakli. Tachau (1994), Political Parties of the Middle East 
(London: Mansell), pages 504-5. 

9. Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba'thist Syria, 
page 83. 

10. Kaplan, Robert R. (February 1993), The Atlantic Online, 'Syria: Identity 
Crisis’. Available from < 

1 1 . The Syrian Communist Party was also largely considered to be a Kurdish 
political party. Its ranks were drawn mainly from among Kurds, who were 
attracted to the promotion of equality, freeing of the oppressed masses, 
etc. Its former leader, Khalid Bakdash (deceased) was Kurdish. Many 
Kurds left the SCP in the 1950s due to a conflict of ideology between 
Kurdish nationalists and communists. The early Kurdish parties were 
greatly influenced by its ideology and many continue to be. 

12. McDowall, The Kurds of Syria, pages 16-17. 

13. The Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria 1963. 

14. Mullah Mustafa Barzani was the leader of the Barzan confederation of 
Kurdish tribes in northern Iraq and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic 
Party of Iraq. After his death in 1979 his position was taken over by his 
son, Mas'ud Barzani. 

15. Seale, Patrick (1988), Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East (California: 
University of California Press), page 67. 

16. Human Rights Association of Syria (November 2003), The Effect of Denial 
of Nationality on Syrian Kurds (Damascus: HRAS). Available from <www.>. 

17. See Human Rights Association of Syria, Effect of Denial of Nationality on 
Syrian Kurds; Human Rights Watch (October 1996), Syria: The Silenced 
Kurds (HRW); Tharwa Project (9 August 2004), Special Report: The Plight 
of the Denaturalized Kurds, 'A1 Hassakeh "foreigners": Eternal suffering, 
nightmare of lost identity'. Available from < 

18. McDowall, The Kurds of Syria, pages 25-6. See also Tharwa Project, (9 
August 2004), Special Report: Die Plight of the Denaturalized Kurds, 'Kurdish 
Bidouin in Syria'. Available from < 

19. George, Alan (2003), Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom (London: Zed Books), 
page 6. 

20. The 'Alawi is the religious sect to which Hafiz al-Asad and his son, Bashar 
al-Asad belong. The 'Alawi inhabit the mountainous and coastal regions 
in the west of Syria. The primary towns of this region are Lataqiyya and 

21. Perthes, Volker (1995), Die Political Economy of Syria Under Asad (London: 
I.B. Tauris), pages 36-7; Zisser, Eyal (2001), Asad's Legacy: Syria in Transition 
(London: Hurst & Co), page 7. 

22. Zisser, Asad's Legacy, page 7. 

23. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 37. 

Notes 133 

24. Officially, in the Constitution, this is called the 'Corrective Movement'. 
Van Dam, Nikolaus (1996), The Struggle for Power in Syria (London: I.B. 
Tauris), page 68. 

25. Winckler, Onn (1999), Demographic Developments and Population Policies 
in Ba'thist Syria (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press), page 124. 

26. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds, page 13. 

27. Ibid. 

28. Ismet Cherif Vanly, in Kreyenbroek, P.G. and S. Sperl (1992), Die Kurds: 
A Contemporary Overview (Oxford: Routledge), page 162. 

29. Ibid. 

30. McDowall, The Kurds of Syria, page 28. 

31. Winckler, Demographic Developments and Population Policies in Ba'thist 
Syria, page 124. 

32. Ibid., pages 126-7. 

33. Ibid. 

34. See for example, Heydemann, S. (1999), Authoritarianism in Syria: 
Institutions and Social Conflict 1946-1970 (USA: Cornell University Press); 
Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba'thist Syria; 
Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad. 

35. Seale, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East, page 169. 

36. Ibid. 

37. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 4. 

38. For further information on the intended succession of Basil al-Asad, see 
Zisser, Eyal, 'Syria: The Renewed Struggle for Power', in Ma'oz, Moshe 
(ed.) (1999), Modern Syria: From Ottoman Rule to Pivotal Role in the Middle 
East (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press), pages 39-40. 

39. International Crisis Group (11 February 2004), Syria Under Bashar (II): 
Domestic Policy Challenges. Available from < 
cfm?id=2516&l=l> at page 5. 

40. Ibid., at page 6. 

41. Ibid. 

42. Ibid. 

43. Al-Asad, Bashar, Inaugural speech. Available from <http://moi-syria. 

44. Human Rights Watch (2002), World Report, page 2. 

45. For a detailed account of the Damascus Spring see George, Syria: Neither 
Bread nor Freedom. 

46. Two outspoken independent MPs, Riyadh Sayf (arrested 6 September 2001 
for 'violating the constitution') and Mamoun al-Homsi (arrested 9 August 
2001 for 'insulting the constitution’, 'opposing the government' and 
informing foreign elements) who held such forums are now in prison. 
Amnesty International (2 March 2003), Syria: elections opportunity to release 
independent MP (AI Index: MDE 24/010/2003); Human Rights Watch 
(2002), World Report. 

47. Petitions included The Statement of 99, The Statement of 1000, and 
'Towards a National Social Contract in Syria'. For text see George, Syria: 
Neither Bread nor Freedom, pages 178-93. 

48. Kader, Alan (2001), The Kurdish Cause in Western Kurdistan (London: 
WKA), page 26. 

134 The Kurds in Syria 

49. In the year 2001. See Human Rights Watch, World Report (2002 and 2003) 
for examples. On 23 December 2002 journalist Ibrahim Hamidi, who has 
also written on the Kurds of Syria, was detained on charges of publishing 
false information. MEIB (January 2003), Intelligence Briefs: Syria, ‘Arrest 
of Hamidi Sparks Outrage Abroad', (vol. 5, no. 1). Available from <www.>. Also, two outspoken Kurdish politicians 
from the Kurdish Yeketi Party were arrested on 12 December 2002 
following their demonstration outside parliament. 

50. Human Rights Association of Syria (April 2004), The Qamishli Incidents 
and their Consequences in Syrian Cities (Damascus: HRAS), available from 
<>; Amnesty International (16 March 2004), Syria: Mass 
arrests/Fear of torture and ill-treatment (AI Index: MDE 24/019/2004 and 
MDE 24/020/2004); Amnesty International (6 April 2004), Syria: Amnesty 
International calls on Syria to end repressive measures against Kurds and to 
set up an independent judicial enquiry into the recent clashes (AI Index: MDE 

5 1 . Human Rights Association of Syria (March 2004), 'The Qamishli Incidents 
and their Consequences in Syrian Cities' (press release). Available from 

52. Human Rights Watch (19 March 2004), Syria: Address Grievances Underlying 
Kurdish Unrest. Available from < 

53. See Part Three of this book. 


1. Al-Asad characterized his coup as a Corrective Movement within the 
revolution which would merely restore it to the party line. Hinnebusch, 
Raymond (2002), Syria: Revolution From Above (Oxford: Routledge), 
page 65. 

2. Syrian Human Rights Committee (18 February 1999), The Massacre of 
Hama (1982) ... Law application requires accountability. Available from 

3. George, Alan (2003), Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom (London: Zed Books), 
page 16. 

4. Syrian Human Rights Committee, Massacre of Hama. 

5. Human Rights Association of Syria (April 2004), The Qamishli Incidents 
and their Consequences in Syrian Cities (Damascus: HRAS). Available from 

6. Perthes, Volker (1995), The Political Economy of Syria Under Asad (London: 
I.B. Tauris), page 154. 

7. Article 16 of the Syrian Constitution. 

8. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 157. 

9. Ibid., page 156. 

10. Ibid., page 154. 

11. Ibid., page 156. 

12. Article 84 of the Syrian Constitution. 

Notes 135 

13. International Crisis Group (11 February 2004), Syria Under Bashar (II): 
Domestic Policy Challenges. Available from < 
cfm?id=2516&l=l> at page 4. 

14. Articles 95 and 109 of the Syrian Constitution. 

15. Articles 107 and 114 of the Syrian Constitution. 

16. Articles 93 and 94 of the Syrian Constitution. 

17. Articles 98 and 99 of the Syrian Constitution. Although having provided 
reasons, if the Assembly again approves them by a two thirds majority, 
the President of the Republic has to issue them. 

18. Article 111. The President also assumes legislative authority between 
individual sessions of each people's Assembly, although any legislation 
issued during these periods must be referred to the first session of the 
People's Assembly. 

19. Articles 101 and 103 of the Syrian Constitution. 

20. Articles 111 and 113 of the Syrian Constitution. 

21. Articles 115 and 117 of the Syrian Constitution. 

22. Articles 115 and 127 of the Syrian Constitution. 

23. The Parliament is represented by the 'President of the Assembly' or Prime 

24. Articles 50 and 51 of the Syrian Constitution. 

25. Article 63 of the Constitution. 

26. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 166. 

27. Article 71 of the Constitution. 

28. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 164. George, Syria: 
Neither Bread nor Freedom, page 87. 

29. United Nations Human Rights Committee (25 August 2000), Second 
Periodic Report of States Parties due in 1984: Syrian Arab Republic (CCPR/ 
C/SYR/2000/2), pages 70-1. 

30. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 166. 

31. In the referendum of 10 July 2000, the Ba'th Party won 135 of 167 seats 
that went to PNF parties. The remaining 83 seats went to independent 
candidates. In the presidential elections of March 2003, the Ba'th Party 
won 167 of the total 250 seats, leaving the real proportion of Ba'th to 
non-Ba'th parliamentarians the same. 

32. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 168. 

33. George, Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom, page 74. 

34. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, pages 170-1. 

35. Lesch, David W., 'History and Political Culture: Obstacles to Integration', 
in Ma'oz, Moshe (ed.) (1999), Modern Syria: From Ottoman Rule to Pivotal 
Role in the Middle East (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press), pages 63-4. 

36. Most major enterprises were nationalized by the government in the 
1960s during the height of socialist ideology and economic policies 
adopted at the same time were intended to address existing regional 
and class disparities. Many of these policies still exist today, hampering 
the country's economic growth. Despite reforms in the 1990s, the Syrian 
economy is still affected by low levels of investment, relatively low 
industrial and agricultural productivity and poorly performing public 
sector companies. US Department of State (August 2004), Background 
Note: Syria. Available from <>. 

136 The Kurds in Syria 

37. World Bank (September 2004), Country Brief: Syria; World Bank (August 
2004), Syrian Arab Republic Data Profile for 2003, taken from World 
Development Indicators Database. Both available from <www.worldbank. 

38. US Department of State, Background Note: Syria. 

39. World Bank, Country Brief: Syria ; World Bank, Syrian Arab Republic Data 
Profile for 2003. 

40. US Department of State, Background Note: Syria. 

41. Ibid. 

42. Ibid. 

43. Ibid. 

44. Ibid. 

45. World Bank, Syrian Arab Republic Data Profile for 2003. 

46. US Library of Congress, Country Studies: Syria, 1987, 'The Judiciary'. 
Available from <>. 

47. Preamble of the Syrian Constitution, 1973. 

48. Article 1(3) of the Syrian Constitution. 

49. Article 1(1) of the Syrian Constitution. 

50. Articles 38 and 37 respectively of the Syrian Constitution. 

51. Legislative Decree no. 51(5) of 22 December 1962. 

52. See Article 19 (1998), Walls of Silence (London), page 21; Syrian Human 
Rights Committee (20 February 2001), Special Report - Repressive Laws in 
Syria, available from <>. 

53. Middle East Watch/Human Rights Watch (1991), Syria Unmasked (HRW), 
page 24. 

54. Article 19, Walls of Silence, page 21. 

55. Syrian Human Rights Committee, Special Report - Repressive Laws in 

56. See for example Amnesty International (20 October 2004), Syria: Further 
information on: Fear of torture and ill-treatment / unlawful detention / 
incommunicado detention - Arwad Muhammad 'Izzat Al-Buchi (m), aged 
45, engineer (AI Index: MDE 24/072/2004); Amnesty International 
(28 September 2004), Syria/Australia: Torture and ill-treatment / medical 
concern / incommunicado detention, Ayman Ardeli (AI Index: MDE 
24/064/2004); Amnesty International (21 September 2004), Syria: Fear 
of torture / incommunicado detention, ‘Abd al-Salam Assaqqa (AI Index: MDE 
24/068/2004); Amnesty International (26 April 2004), Syria: Prisoners of 
conscience / fear of torture (AI Index: MDE 24/038/2004). 

57. Amnesty International (19 January 2005), Syria: Torture and ill-treatment 
/possible unfair trial (AI Index: MDE 24/003/2005); Syrian Human Rights 
Committee (18 February 2005), Military Prosecution brings 18 Kurdish 
Detainees Before Court, available from < 

58. Article 131 of the Syrian Constitution. 

59. Article 132 of the Syrian Constitution. 

60. Article 136 of the Syrian Constitution. 

61. Article 139 of the Syrian Constitution. 

62. Article 145 of the Syrian Constitution. 

63. Article 147 of the Syrian Constitution. 

Notes 137 

64. Articles 131 and 133 of the Syrian Constitution. 

65. Middle East Watch/Human Rights Watch, Syria Unmasked, page 85. 

66. Ibid. 

67. Article 19, Walls of Silence, pages 20-1. 

68. United Nations Human Rights Committee (25 August 2000), Second 
Periodic Report of States Parties due in 1984: Syrian Arab Republic (CCPR/ 
C/SYR/2000/2), page 81 at para. 360. 

69. Perthes, Political Economy of Syria Under Asad, page 222. 

70. Ibid. 


1. Laizer, Sheri (1996), Martyrs, Traitors and Patriots: Kurdistan after the Gulf 
War (London: Zed Books), page 107. 

2. Although Israel has never expressed a desire for confrontation with the 
Kurds, and defined Turkey's Kurdish problem as being an internal affair 
which needed no bilateral cooperation agreement. 

3. Daoudy, Marwa, 'Water, Institutions and Development in Syria: 
A Downstream Perspective from the Euphrates and Tigris', for the 
World Commission on Dams. Available from < 

4. See for example Kurdish Human Rights Project (August 2003), Newsline 
Issue 23 (London: KHRP). 

5. Over 450,000 Kurdish refugees arrived in Turkey and on the Turkish 
border with Iraq, while an estimated 1,400,000 Kurds entered Iran. 
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the rate of influx 
was unprecedented in the 40-year history of the UNHCR. Cook, Helena 
(1995), The Safe Haven in Northern Iraq (London: University of Essex 
Human Rights Centre & KHRP), pages 37-8. 

6. Ibid., page 36. 

7. Ibid., page 37. 

8. Farouk-Sluglett, Marion, and Peter Sluglett (2001), Iraq since 1958: From 
Revolution to Dictatorship (London: I.B. Tauris), page 299. 

9. Yildiz, Kerim and Tom Blass (2004), The Kurds in Iraq: The Past Present 
and Future (London: Pluto Press), pages 71-2. 

10. Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs (13 February 2005), 
Press Release No.23 Regarding the Results of the Iraqi Elections (unofficial 
translation). Available from < 


1 . Quotes taken from 'World Commission on Dams, Dams and Development: 
a new framework for decision making', Earthscan, London, 2000, page 
251; Curtin, F., 'Transboundary Impacts of Dams: Conflict Prevention 
Strategies', Working Paper prepared for World Commission on Dams 
(WCD), in Millington, P., 'River Basin management: Its role in Major Water 

138 The Kurds in Syria 

Infrastructure Projects', WCD Thematic Review, prepared as an input to 
the World Commission on Dams, Cape Town, 2000, page 113. 

2. Materials and notes under this heading are taken from KHRP (July 2002), 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq (London: 
KHRP), pages 13-14. 

3. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, pages 

4. Dolatyar, M. and T.S. Gray (2000), Water Politics in the Middle East: A 
Context for Conflict or Co-Operation? (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press), page 
121 . 

5. Cited in Philip Williams and Associates (PWA) (July 2001), A Review of 
the Hydrological and Geomorphic Impacts of the Proposed Ilisu Dam, Report 
for The Corner House, San Francisco. 

6. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, 
page 13. 

7. Allan, J.A. (2000), The Middle East Water Question: Hydropolitics and the 
Global Economy (London: I.B. Taurus), page 72. 

8. Plans for the Ilisu Dam in Turkey, along with other dams which 
subsequently became part of the GAP project were first mooted in 
the 1950s. The same period saw Russian engineers conducting hydro 
development studies on the Syria reach of the Euphrates. See Allan, 
Middle East Water Question, page 72; Ilisu Dam Campaign and others, 
If the River Were a Pen: The Ilisu Dam, the World Commission on Dams 
and Export Credit Reform (Oxford: The Ilisu Dam Campaign), page 9; 
Altinbilek, D., 'The Ilisu Dam Project', in Turkish Embassy (2000), Water 
and Development in Southeastern Anatolia: Essays on the Ilisu Dam and GAP 
(London), page 31. 

9. Petrella, R., The Water Manifesto: Arguments for a World Water Contract 
(London: Zed Books), page 45. The Tabqa High Dam was completed in 

10. Allan, Middle East Water Question, page 73. 

1 1 . Interview with Mr Waleed Mu'allim, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, 
31 January 2002. 

12. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, pages 

13. Marsh, N., 'Water Wars', UK Defence Forum, page 6. 

14. In 1977, the Turkish government's State Hydraulics Works department 
(DSI) drew together all its planned programmes for the Euphrates and 
Tigris basins under one package - subsequently named the GAP project. 
In 1989, the Turkish government established the Southeastern Anatolia 
Project Regional Development Administration (GAPRDA) to oversee 
the GAP project and to ensure coordination between the agencies and 
institutions concerned. The GAP Higher Board is the most senior decision- 
making body of GAPRDA and is responsible for decisions pertaining to 
planning, design and work programmes. The Board is headed by the 
Minister of State in charge of GAP, the Minister of State responsible for 

Notes 139 

the State Planning Organization and the Minister for Public Works and 

15. According to the GAP administration, just over 50 per cent of this figure 
will be spent on dams and irrigation infrastructure. As of February 2000 

- 30 years after the project was first launched - the Turkish government 
had raised just 43.3 per cent of the total projected expenditure. See Unver, 
Olcay, 'The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP): An Overview', in Turkish 
Embassy, Water and Development in Southeastern Anatolia, pages 14-15. 

16. Sahan, E., S. Mason, A. Gilli, and A. Zogg (2000), 'Southeastern Anatolia 
Project in Turkey - GAP', Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, 
page 1. 

17. Interview with Syrian officials. These figures include all the projects 
planned on tributaries of the Tigris and Euphrates. The more generally 
cited figure of 22 dams and 19 power plants only covers major components 
of the GAP project. 

18. The figure of 27 billion kilowatt hours of electricity takes no account of 
abstraction of water for irrigation. Once this is taken into account, the 
figure would be reduced. See Unver, 'Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP): 
An Overview', pages 15-16. 

19. Southeastern Anatolia Regional Development Administration <>. Cited in Sahan et al., 'Southeastern Anatolia Project in Turkey 

- GAP’. 

20. Altinbilek, 'The Ilisu Dam Project', page 30. 

21. Unver, 'Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP): An Overview', page 19. 

22. Ibid., page 16. 

23. According to the GAP administration, 'a little over $2 billion has come 
from international institutions and the equivalent of $1.5 billion is 
coming from a build, operate and transfer scheme on the Euphrates 
River from a European consortium'. 

24. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, pages 

25. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq. 

26. Unver, 'Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP): An Overview', page 16. 

27. Information supplied by Syrian officials, who also supplied the 
following more specific figures: existing irrigated area, 26,312 ha; area 
under development, 97,744; area where implementation has still to be 
scheduled, 447,768. 

28. Government of Iraq (2002), Position Paper Indicating Iraq's Position on the 
Utilization of the Tigris River Waters (Baghdad). Syrian officials put the figure 
at 8 Bm 3 , since they take account of evaporation from reservoirs. 

29. Ibid. 

30. Information supplied by Syrian officials. Onal Ozish of the Ninth of 
September University, Turkey, gave a figure in 1993 of 16.2 Bm 3 ; Ihsan 
Bagis of Hacettepe University (1989) put the figure at 16.7 Bm 3 . 

31. Government of Iraq, Position Paper Indicating Iraq's Position on the 
Utilization of the Tigris River Waters. 

140 The Kurds in Syria 

32. In 2000, the weekly SoutAl Talaba (Students' Voice ) quoted Iraq's Irrigation 
Minister Mohamoud Diyab A1 Ahmad as stating: 'The construction of 
dams and projects on the Euphrates and Tigris has caused Iraq sustained 
damage ... and led to great shortages in waters coming to Iraq.’ 'Such 
huge Turkish projects place Iraq in a difficult situation.' See 'Iraq urges 
Turkey to reach water-sharing plan', Reuters, 16 April 2000. 

33. Government of Iraq, Position Paper Indicating Iraq's Position on the 
Utilization of the Tigris River Waters. 

34. Dolatyar and Gray, Water Politics in the Middle East, page 144. 

35. This figure is derived from a Syrian analysis of GAP documents. It covers 
land already brought into irrigation through GAP (149,440 ha); land 
where work is underway to install irrigation (130,191 ha); and an area 
(811,572 ha) reported in the GAP general plan but where implementation 
has still to be scheduled. Information supplied by Syrian officials. 

36. Information supplied by Syrian officials. The 9 Bm 3 figure is for irrigation 
water only. The higher figure - 16.9 Bm 3 - also takes into account 
evaporation and water losses from GAP reservoirs and is thus a more 
realistic estimate. 

37. Information supplied by Syrian officials. 

38. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq. 

39. Information supplied by Syrian officials. 

40. Kolars, J. and W.A. Mitchell (1991), The Euphrates River and the Southeast 
Anatolia Development Project (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University 
Press), cited in Daoudy, M., 'The Development of the Euphrates and 
Tigris Basins: An Assessment of Upstream Development (Turkey) on 
Downstream Riparians (Syria)', Submission to the World Commission 
on Dams, Presented at the Africa/Middle-East Regional Consultation, 
December 1999, available from <>. 

41. Government of Iraq, Position Paper Indicating Iraq's Position on the 
Utilization of the Tigris River Waters. 

42. Information supplied by Syrian officials. 

43. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq. 

44. Quoted in Dolatyar and Gray, Water Politics in the Middle East, page 

45. 'Sharing Mesopotamia', The Economist, 13 November 1999, page 81. 

46. 'Syria, Turkey and the water tension', Asharq Al-Awsat, 13 February 
2001 . 

47. Turkey had originally announced that the flow would be blocked for 16 
days, but relented after protests from Syria and Iraq. See Turkish Embassy, 
Water and Development in Southeastern Anatolia, pages 68-9. 

48. Allan, Middle East Water Question, page 73. 

49. Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoted in Allan, Middle East Water 
Question, page 73. 

50. For a Turkish view, see 'Water Disputes in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin', 
<>. The paper states: 
'Before the impounding period, Turkey released more water than the 
commitment of 500 m 3 /s which is undertaken by Turkey in accordance 

Notes 141 

with the provisions of a Protocol signed in 1987 with Syria. Turkey has 
thus created an opportunity for the downstream countries to accumulate 
this additional water in their own reservoirs. In this context, 768 m 3 /s 
of flow has been released at the Turkey-Syria border within the period 
starting on 23rd November 1989 and ending at the beginning of the 
impoundment process on 13 January 1990. Water coming from the 
tributaries which join the Euphrates between the Ataturk Dam and the 
Turkish-Syrian border has also continued to flow into Syria in the slice of 
time between 13 January and 12 February 1990, covering the impounding 
period. Thus, the total amount of water crossing the border between 
23 November 1989 and 12 February 1990 has amounted to 3.6 Bm 3 , 
corresponding to an average value of 509 m 3 /s. Therefore, even in this 
period of 82 days - which also covers the one month impounding period 
- Syria has received more water than the committed quantity of 500 m 3 /s 
... Water in the Ataturk Dam has reached the level of 15 Bm 3 during 
the January 1990-September 1991 period. In the same period, 27 Bm 3 
of water has been released to the downstream riparian countries on the 
basis of the 500 m 3 /s. As these figures indicate, Turkey could have long 
before concluded the filling of the dam, if it had completely cut water 
flow to its southern neighbours. Not opting for such a course of action 
is a proof of Turkey's good intentions and of its sensitivity not to cause 
damage to its neighbours.' 

51. Ibid. 

52. Measurements put the annual average at 487.67 m 3 /s. See Ministry of 
Irrigation in Syria (1999), 'Average monthly discharge (m 3 /sec) of the 
Euphrates river at Jarablus - Syria' (Damascus). 

53. Dolatyar and Gray, Water Politics in the Middle East, page 145. 

54. It is estimated by UNICEF that economic sanctions against Iraq 
contributed to the deaths of some 500,000 Iraqi children a year. For the 
period 1990 to 2000, UNICEF found that of 188 countries surveyed, Iraq 
suffered the worst change in mortality levels amongst children under 
five years old. Child mortality rates in Iraq actually more than doubled 
during the decade. The resigning UN Assistant Secretary General and 
Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq told the UK newspaper the Independent 
in 1998, 'We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as 
simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.' For further details 
of the impacts of sanctions, see <>. For details 
of the UNICEF report, see <>. 

55. Lists of equipment that was held up in this process were supplied by Iraqi 
sources and included water pressure filters, pumps, pipes and hoses. 

56. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, 
pages 22-3. 

57. For technical details of the dams, see DSI website: <>. 

58. The Iraqi Embassy in Ankara gave a note to the Turkish Ministry of 
Foreign Affairs on 17 March 1993. Syria similarly handed a note to the 
Turkish Embassy in Damascus on 18th July 1993. See 'Water Disputes in 
the Euphrates-Tigris Basin'. 

142 The Kurds in Syria 

59. De Villiers, M. (1999), Water Wars: Is the World's Water Running Out? 
(London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson), page 255. 

60. In July 2000, the Syrian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs stated in 
a letter to Friends of the Earth (England and Northern Ireland) that, 
'The Government of the Republic of Turkey has not officially informed, 
consulted, or negotiated with us about the implementation of the Ilisu 
Dam Project on the Tigris, as stipulated by the rules of international law 
and the relevant agreement on the Tigris river and other agreements 
concluded between the two countries.' Iraq has similarly stated that 
'construction of the dam will constitute a breach of international law and 
it would seriously harm Iraq's rights to the river waters'. In August 2000, 
Dr Fahmy Al-Qaysi, Director of the Legal Department of Iraq's Ministry 
of Foreign Affairs, stated, 'The State of Iraq did not receive any official 
notification from the State of Turkey concerning its plans to construct 
the Ilisu Dam, and learned about the Turkish side's intentions through 
media reports.' See Letter to Friends of the Earth from Nasser Kaddour, 
Syrian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 July 2000; L.N. Al-Saidi, Iraqi 
Interests Section, Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Letter 
to Friends of the Earth, 24 March 1999; Dr Fahmy Al-Qaysi, Director of 
Legal Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Letter to Friends of the 
Earth, 18 August 2000. 

61. Turan, I., 'International Aspects of Water Issues', in Turkish Embassy, 
Water and Development in Southeastern Anatolia. 

62. Philip Williams and Associates (PWA), A Review of the Hydrological and 
Geomorphic Impacts of the Proposed Ilisu Dam. 

63. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, 
page 25. 

64. As Mustapha Dolatyar and Tim Gray note: 'Syria and Iraq took every 
opportunity offered by diplomacy to prevent upstream developments or 
at least to modify them.' If Turkey is now adopting a more conciliatory 
position, argue Dolatyar and Gray, this is largely due to Syria and Iraq's 
diplomatic conduct. See Dolatyar and Gray, Water Politics in the Middle 
East, page 146. 

65. Turkey has insisted that any agreement on the Tigris and Euphrates 
must also include an agreement on use of the Orontes (Asi) River, which 
flows through territory disputed by Syria and Turkey. Syria refers to the 
territory as Iskenderun, whilst Turkey calls it Hatay province. As Mustapha 
Dolatyar and Tim Gray note in their study of water politics in the region: 
'If a general water agreement were to cover the Orontes, both the Syrians 
and the Turks think it would imply recognition of Hatay as Turkish.' See 
Dolatyar and Gray, Water Politics in the Middle East, page 149. 

66. Interview with Mr Waleed Mu'allim, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, 
31 January 2002. 

67. Interview with Mr Waleed Mu'allim. 

68. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Irrigation, 'The Division of 
Waters in International Law: Facts on the Joint Waters with Turkey', 
Baghdad, Iraq, 1999. 

Notes 143 

69. On 4 September 2000, for example, the League passed the following 
resolution (6017) expressing concern over potential UK funding for 
the proposed Ilisu Dam on the Tigris: 'The League's Council, seeking 
to participate in finding a just solution to the issue of the use of the 
waters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, issued resolution number 
5965 dated 28.3.00 expressing its concern regarding Turkey's continual 
building of dams and other projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers 
without prior consultation with the two other riparian states in which 
the rivers' courses also run, particularly in view of the serious damage 
which these projects would cause both qualitatively and quantitatively 
to these waters, including pollution of the waters flowing into Syria and 
Iraq, and the serious effects this would have on drinking and irrigation 
waters, and the damage done to the environment. It expressed its concern 
in connection with the British Government's intention to positively 
consider giving credit guarantees to finance the "Ilisu" Dam project on 
the river Tigris, and called upon the British Government to respond to 
the protests of official and unofficial bodies, both Arab and non-Arab, 
regarding the finance of this project.' 

70. Materials and footnotes under this heading are taken from KHRP, 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, pages 
37, 44. 

71. Die Ilisu Dam: A Human Rights Disaster in the Making, KHRP, November 
1999 (reporting on the implications of the Ilisu Hydro-Electric Power 
Project, Batman Province, Southeast Turkey, following a fact-finding 
mission to the region); If the River were a Pen, published by KHRP, 2000 
(report of a fact-finding mission to the Ilisu Dam region in October 2000, 
undertaken by KHRP, the Ilisu Dam Campaign, The Corner House and 
other parties); Die Ilisu Dam: Displacement of Communities and Destruction 
of Culture, KHRP, October 2002 (review of the Ilisu Dam project and 
report of fact-finding mission to the Ilisu Dam region in June 2001); 
Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction on Syria and Iraq, KHRP, 
July 2002 (report of fact-finding mission to Syria and Iraq in July 2002). 
All available from KHRP. 


1. Quote from George W. Bush, current president of the USA in his State 
of the Union Speech of 2 February 2005. 

2. Libya has held observer status since 1999. 

3. European Union, Syria: Country Strategy Paper 2002-2006 & National 
Indicative Programme 2002-2004. Available at < 
comm/external_relations/syria/csp/index.htm>. The most recent NIP 
for 2005-06 states that economic reform is beginning to take place, but 
slow economic growth and rapid population and workforce growth cause 
further pressure on the authorities to increase the pace of these reforms. 
The NIP states that Syria must stimulate growth and employment, 
diversify the economic structure and reduce reliance on oil revenues, 
undertake comprehensive reforms to improve the business environment, 

144 The Kurds in Syria 

rationalize and improve the quality of the public sector, strengthen 
the rule of law, and promote and modernize the health and education 

4. European Union (19 October 2004), IP/04/1246. Available from <http://>. 

5. European Union (10 December 2003), IP/03/1704. Available from <http://>. 

6. European Union (19 October 2004), IP/04/1246. 

7. European Union (Council), Foreign Policy: fight against the proliferation of 
weapons of mass destruction. Available from < 

8. European Union (Council) (3 December 2004), Progress Report on the 
Implementation of Chapter III of the EU Strategy Against the Proliferation 
of Weapons of Mass Destruction (15246/04/ PESC 1040/CODUN 41/ 
CONOP 59). 

9. See for example (8 August 2002), Declaration by the Presidency on behalf 
of the EU on human rights in Syria. Available from <www.europa-web. 

10. European Union (Council) (13 October 2003), Annual Report on Human 
Rights, Section 4.4.5: The Middle East. 

1 1 . European Union Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common 
Security and Defence Policy (13 April 2004), Annual Report on Human 
Rights in the World in 2003 and the European Union's Policy on the Matter 
(PE 329.350/DEF). 

12. The National Democratic Alliance is a coalition of various Syrian 
opposition groups. 

13. Riad A1 Turk's case was also covered at a hearing of the European 
Parliament Human Rights Working Group on 4 June 2002 (OJ C 261 E, 
30.10.2003, p. 595). 

14. European Union (Parliament) (13 June 2002), Resolution on the Situation 
with regard to Democratic Rights in Syria, and the case of Riad Turk in particular 
( P5_TA(2002)0330) . 

15. US Department of State (August 2004), Background Note: Syria. Available 
from <>. 

16. Syria Linked to Capture of Saddam's Half-Brother (Reuters, 27 February 2005 
06:20 PM ET). 

17. Security Council declares support for free, fair presidential election in Lebanon; 
calls for withdrawal of foreign forces there (UN Press Release SC/8181 
available at <>). 

18. US Ambassador in Syria Summoned Home for Talks (Reuters, 15 March 2005 
11:56 PM ET). Accessed 16 February 2005 

19. Lebanese Vent Anger on Syria After Hariri Killing (Reuters, 15 February 2005 
12:17 Pm ET). Accessed 15 February 2005. 

20. Anti-Syrian Protests Mark Hariri's Funeral (Reuters, 16 February 2005 05:14 
AM ET). Accessed 16 February 2005 

21. Bush Calls on Syria to Pull Troops from Lebanon (Reuters, 17 February 2005 
10:26 AM ET). Accessed 17 February 2005. 

22. Protesters Back on Beirut Streets; US Offers Support (Reuters, 1 March 2005, 
08:32 AM ET). 

Notes 145 

23. US Lands Changes in Lebanon (Reuters, 1 March 2005 06:49 AM ET). 

24. Russia, Germany Demand Syria Quit Lebanon (Reuters, 3 March 2005 09:38 
AM ET). Accessed 4 March 2005. 

25. Saudis Back Calls for Syrian Pullout from Lebanon (Reuters, 3 March 2005 
04:01 AM ET). Accessed 4 March 2005. 

26. Assad: Syria Troops to Pidlback Gradually from Lebanon (Reuters, 5 March 
2005 12:33 PM ET). Accessed 8 March 2005. 

27. Syria, Lebanon Leaders Meet, Syrian Troops Pack up (Reuters, 7 March 2005 
06:03 AM ET). Accessed 8 March 2005. 

28. Syrians to Pull Back to Eastern Lebanon this Month (Reuters, 7 March 2005 
09:11 AM ET). Accessed 8 March 2005. 

29. US Says Syria Withdrawal Plan Not Enough (Reuters, 5 March 2005 05:46 
PM ET). Accessed 8 March 2005. 


1. United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 
(26 October 1998), Fifteenth Periodic Report of States Parties due in 1998: 
Syrian Arab Republic (CERD/C/338/Add.l/Rev.l.), page 4 at para. 10. 

2. Ibid. 

3. Ibid., page 2 at para. 3. 


1. Human Rights Watch (October 1996), Syria: The Silenced Kurds (HRW). 

2. Ibid. 

3. Human Rights Association of Syria (November 2003), Die Effect of Denial 
of Nationality on Syrian Kurds (Damascus: HRAS). Available from <www.>. 

4. McDowall, D. (1998), The Kurds of Syria (London: KHRP), page 53. 

5. Articles 43 and 44 of the Syrian nationality acquisition law. 

6. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds. 

7. Ibid.. 

8. Human Rights Association of Syria, Effect of Denial of Nationality on Syrian 
Kurds; Human Rights Watch, Syria: Die Silenced Kurds. 

9. Human Rights Association of Syria, Effect of Denial of Nationality on Syrian 
Kurds, page 8. 

10. Ibid. 

11. United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (1997), Summary 
Record of the 361st Meeting (UN Doc CRC/C/SR.361). 

12. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Human Rights Association of Syria, Effect of Denial of Nationality on Syrian 
Kurds; Human Rights Watch, Syria: Die Silenced Kurds. 

18. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds. 

146 The Kurds in Syria 

19. Ibid. 

20. Ibid.; Tharwa Project (9 August 2004), Special Report: The Plight of the 
Denaturalized Kurds, 'A1 Hassakeh "foreigners": Eternal suffering, 
nightmare of lost identity'. Available from < 

21. Human Rights Association of Syria, Effect of Denial of Nationality on Syrian 
Kurds, page 12. 

22. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds. 

23. Since the decrees of IS October 1999 the mukhtar has not been allowed 
to issue these documents. 

24. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds. 

25. Ibid. 

26. Human Rights Association of Syria, Effect of Denial of Nationality on Syrian 
Kurds, page 12. 

27. World Bank (August 2001), Irrigation Sector Report No. 22602. Available 
from <>. 

28. Ibid. 

29. Human Rights Association of Syria (April 2004), The Qamishli Incidents 
and their Consequences in Syrian Cities (Damascus: HRAS). Available from 
<>, page 9. 

30. McDowall, Kurds of Syria, page 53. 


1. These parties are: Partiya Qep Kurdi li Suriye / Hizb al-Yasari al-Kurdi fi 
Suriya (Head: Muhammad Mousa); Partiya Qep Kurdi li Suriye / Hizb 
al-Yasari al-Kurdi fi Suriya (Head: Khair al-Din Maurad); Parti Demokrati 
Kurd li Suriye (al-Parti) / Hizb al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdi fi Suriya (al-Parti) 
(Head: Nusr al-Din Ibrihim); Parti Demokrati Kurd li Suriye / Hizb al- 
Dimuqrati al-Kurdi fi Suriya (Head: Muhammad Nazir Mustafa); Parti 
Demokrati Kurdi Sun / Hizb al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdi al-Suriy (Head: Jamal 
Mullah Mahmoud); Partiya Demokrata Pe veru Kurd li Suriye / Hizb 
al-Dimuqrati al-Taqadumi fi Suriya (Head: Abd al-Hamid Haj Darwish); 
Partiya Demokrata Pe verti Kurd li Suriye / Hizb al-Dimuqrati al- 
Taqadumi fi Suriya (Head: Aziz Da'ud); Partiya Hevgirtina Gele Kurd 
li Suriye / Hizb al-Itihad al-Sha'bi al-Kurd ifi Suriya (Head: Salah Bedr al- 
Din); Partiya Welatparez Demokrat ya Kurd li Suriye /Hizb al-Watani 
al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdi fi Suriye (Head: Tahir Sa'doun or Sifuk); Partiya 
Yekiti ya Demokrat Kurd li Suriye / Hizb al-Wahida al-Dimuqrati al- 
Kurdi fi Suriya (Head: Isma'il 'Amo); Partiya Yekiti ya Dimoqrati / Hizb 
al-Wahida al Dimuqrati fi Suriya (The name of this party and its leader 
changes frequently); Partiya Yekiti ya Kurd li Suriye / Hizb al-Wahida 
al-Kurdi fi Suriya (Head: changes every three years). 

2. Perthes, Volker (1995), Die Political Economy of Syria Under Asad (London: 
I.B. Tauris), page 167. 

3. Although the political parties also carry out much of the publication and 
distribution of Kurdish literature within Syria, Syrian laws providing for 
state censorship of printed material combined with the illegal nature 

Notes 147 

of the political parties reduces their efficiency in this respect and the 
majority of publications are produced outside Syria. 

4. Article 39 of the Constitution. 

5. Chaliand, Gerard (1994), The Kurdish Tragedy (London: Zed Books), page 

6. Amnesty International (29 June 2004), Syria: Unfair trial of Kurdish prisoners 
of conscience and torture of children is totally unacceptable (AI Index: MDE 

7. Estimates of numbers vary considerably. 

8. Human Rights Association of Syria (April 2004), The Qamishli Incidents 
and their Consequences in Syrian Cities (Damascus: HRAS). Available from 

9. Ibid. 

10. Syrian Human Rights Committee (17 February 2005), Military Prosecution 
brings 18 Kurdish Detainees Before Court (press release). 

11. Syrian Human Rights Committee (18 February 2005), Military Prosecution 
brings 18 Kurdish Detainees Before Court. Available from < 

12. Amnesty International, Syria: Unfair trial of Kurdish prisoners of conscience 
and torture of children is totally unacceptable; Human Rights Association of 
Syria, Qamishli Incidents and their Consequences in Syrian Cities. 

13. Amnesty International (4 September 2003), Syria: Fear of torture or ill- 
treatment / possible prisoner of conscience / legal concern (AI Index: MDE 

14. Kurdish, 30 August 2003. 

15. Amnesty International (11 November 2003), Syria: Incommunicado 
detention / fear of torture and ill-treatment (AI Index: MDE 24/042/2003). 
Amnesty International (17 February 2004), Syria: Further information on 
incommunicado detention / fear of torture and ill-treatment (AI Index: MDE 

16. Including Amnesty International and Kurdish PEN. 

17. Syrian Human Rights Committee (20 February 2001), Special Report 
- Repressive Laws in Syria. Available from < 

18. Syrian Human Rights Committee (2004), Annual Report, pages 31-2. 
Articles 27 and 28 of Decree 50 also require media workers to be members 
of the Journalists Union. 

19. Syrian Human Rights Committee, Annual Report, pages 31-2. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Human Rights Watch (31 January 2002), Memorandum to the Syrian 
Government: Decree No. 50/2001: Human Rights Concerns. Available from 

22. Ibid., at page 7. 

23. Ibid., at page 5. 

24. Ibid., at page 2. 

25. Ibid. 

26. Human Rights Association of Syria (November 2003), The Effect of Denial 
of Nationality on Syrian Kurds (Damascus: HRAS). Available from <www.>, page 15. 

148 The Kurds in Syria 

27. Syrian Human Rights Committee, Animal Report, page 33. 

28. Ibid. 

29. Reporters sans Frontieres (11 October 2004), Three years in prison for 
Kurdish journalism student who posted photos on website. Available from 
<>; Amnesty International (17 
June 2004), Syria: Amnesty International repeats its call for the release of five 
prisoners of conscience held for their peaceful use of the Internet (AI Index: 
MDE 24/045/2004). 

30. Amnesty International, Syria: Amnesty International repeats its call for the 
release of five prisoners of conscience. 

31. Syrian Human Rights Committee (2004), Annual Report, page 32. 

32. Reporters sans Frontieres (29 March 2004), Government blocks access 
to two Kurdish websites. Available from < 

33. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa: Free 
Expression and Censorship: Syria. Available from < 


1 . Human Rights Association of Syria (November 2003), The Effect of Denial 
of Nationality on Syrian Kurds (Damascus: HRAS). Available from <www.>; Human Rights Watch (October 1996), Syria: The Silenced 
Kurds (HRW). 

2. McDowall, D. (1998), The Kurds of Syria (London: KHRP), page 47. 

3. For example, Circular 7014/H issued in October 1996 aimed to enforce 
controls on the use of languages other than Arabic in public and in the 

4. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Ibid. 

8. McDowall, Kurds of Syria, pages 50-1. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Ismet Chefir Vanly in Kreyenbroek, P.G. and S. Sperl (1992), The Kurds: 
A Contemporary Overview (Oxford: Routledge), page 163. 

11. Human Rights Watch, Syria: The Silenced Kurds. 

12. McDowall, Kurds of Syria, page 17. 

13. Van Dam, Nikolaus (1996), The Struggle for Power in Syria (London: I.B. 
Tauris), page 172. 

14. Nikitine, Basile (1956), Les Kurdes: Etude Sociologique et Historique 


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Compiled by Sue Carlton 

Abdullah, Crown Prince of Saudi 
Arabia 87 

Abyad wa Aswad 112 

Adana Agreement (1998) 58 

'Aflaq, Michael 35 

Afrin region 24, 117-18, 119 

Ahl-I Haqq 9 

'Alawi 35 

Aleppo 24, 42 

Alevis 9 

Algiers Agreement (1975) 18, 56 
Allawi, Iyad 62 
Altinbilek, Dogan 68 
Amnesty International 109 
Anatolia 9, 12, 14 
Antal campaign (1988) 18-19, 60 
Arab belt 35, 36-8 
Arab Charter of Human Rights 
(ACHR) 94, 95, 99, 100, 116 
Arab League 59, 75, 94 
Arab nationalism 27, 29, 30-1, 39, 64 
Arab Revolt (1916) 27 
A1 Arabiyya Satellite Channel 

Arabization policies 18, 91-3, 102, 

120, 122 

Armenia 12, 13-14 
Armenians 10 
al-Asad, Bashar 39-41, 46 

and discrimination against Kurds 
92, 105, 123-4 
and EU-Syria Association 
Agreement 79, 81 
and Internet 114 
and Lebanon 86-7 
and relations with Iraq 59 
and relations with Turkey 58 
visit to Moscow 77 
al-Asad, Basil 40 

al-Asad, Hafiz 38-9, 43-4, 45, 46 
and Arab Belt 36 
and economic system 50 
and Newroz 119-20 
and People's Assembly 48 

Asad, Lake 36 
Asad, Rifa'at 44 
assembly, freedom of 107-11 
association, freedom of 106-7 
Assyrians 10 

Ataturk Dam 59, 68, 71-2, 73 
Atatiirk, Mustapha Kemal 13, 14, 
17, 25 

al-'Attar, Najar 120 
Axis of Evil 77 

Bar Association of Syria 54 
Barcelona Process see Euro- 

Mediterranean Partnership 
Barzani, Massoud 61, 62 
Barzani, Mustafa 16, 17-18, 62 
Ba'th Party 45-7, 59, 123 
1963 coup 35-6 
and Arab Belt 36-8 
and Arabization campaign 18 
in Iraq 60, 63, 83 
and Kurdish political rights 106, 
111, 115 

and Kurdish protests 108, 109 
National Command 46 
opposition to 44, 49 
and Presidency 46-7 
Regional Command 46 
and role of military 43-5 
and wasta 103 
Batman Dam 73 
Bedir-Xan, Celadet All 8, 23 
Biricek Dam 68, 73 
Bitar, Salah 35 
Bush, George W. 77, 85, 86 

Chaldiran, battle of 6 
chemical weapons 19, 60 
children, right to nationality 97-8 
Christianity 10-11 
Citizenship Acquisition Law, Syria 

civil rights 94-105 


156 The Kurds in Syria 

Committee for Union and Progress 
(CUP) 14 

Convention Against Torture (CAT) 

Convention on the Rights of the 
Child (CRC) 97, 98, 100, 116 
Corner House, The 75-6 
cultural rights 116-21 
Curtin, Fiona 65 

Damascus 25-6, 27, 42, 100, 119 
Damascus Spring 41, 82, 110 
Declaration on the Rights of 

Persons belonging to National 
or Ethnic, Religious and 
Linguistic Minorities (1992) 
116, 118-19 

Decree Number 50 112-13, 114 
Deiz Azour 41-2 
Demirel, Suleyman 71 
Dicle Dam 73 
Dimli dialect 8 
A1 Domari 112 

education 103, 122 
right to 100-2 
Egypt 31 

Environmental Impact Assessment 
Report (EIAR) 73 
Euphrates River 57, 58, 59, 65-6, 

67, 68, 69-71, 73, 74, 75 
see also GAP (Southeast Anatolia) 

Euro-Mediterranean Partnership 
(Barcelona Process) 78-9 
EU-Syria Association Agreement 51, 

expression, freedom of 111-14 

family life, right to 98-9 
Fayli Kurds 10, 18 
Fourteen Points programme 12-13 
Free Officers 31 
French Mandate (1920-46) 27, 
28-30, 57 

GAP (Southeast Anatolia) project 
58, 67-75 

attempts to negotiate 74-5 

and human rights implications 
70, 72-3, 75-6 

and increased water pollution 70 
reduction in water flow 69-70 
Syrian and Iraqi concerns 68-73 
and tensions 73-4 
and Turkish control over 
neighbours 71-3 
see also Ilisu Dam; water 

GAPRDA (Southeast Anatolia 

Project Regional Development 
Administration) 68 
Gulf War (1990-91) 19, 60-1, 82 
Gurani dialect 9 

Halabja, chemical attacks on 60 
Halaf culture 5 
Hama 44 
Hamas 83 

Hamid, Massud 114 

Hanafi school 10 

Harb, Subhi 118 

al-Hariri, Rafik 77, 86, 87 

Hasakeh census (1962) 33-4, 35, 36, 

92, 122 

and citizenship rights 33, 34, 94, 
95, 104, 105 

Al-Hasakeh (Jazira) 25, 29, 102 
and Kurdish names 118 
and land reforms 36-8 
Hawar 8, 23 
Hayy al-Akrad 25, 27 
Hezbollah 83 

Hilal, Muhammad Talab 34-5 
Hindiya barrage 66 
Human Rights Watch 37, 94, 95-6, 
98, 101, 118 
Hurrians 5 

Husayn, sharif of Mecca 12 
Hussein, Saddam 18-19, 60, 61, 

63, 83 

Ilisu Dam 73-4 

International Covenant on Civil 
and Political Rights (ICCPR) 

93, 97, 98, 99, 107, 116 
International Human Rights Day 

108, 109 

Index 157 

Iran 15-16 

and Iraqi Kurdish refugees 60 
and Kurdish language teaching 

support for Kurds 18, 56-7 
Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) 16, 18, 59 
Iranian Revolution (1979) 16 
Iraq 17-19, 59-64 
2005 election 61-2 
Arabization campaign 18 
and chemical weapons 19, 60 
and GAP project 68-73 
and Kurdish autonomy 18, 58, 59 
Kurdish uprisings 16, 18, 19, 32, 

no-fly zone 61 

safe haven for Kurds 60-1, 62-4 
sanctions against 19 
village evacuations 18, 19 
Iraq War (2003) 57, 58, 59, 61, 64, 
77, 83, 120, 123 
Iraqi Revaluation (1958) 31 
Iskenderun 74 
Islamic Jihad 83 
Israel 30, 57-8, 82 
Izady, Mehrdad 5, 6 

Jabal Druze 29 
Jabal Qasiyun 25 
Jadid, Salah 35-6 
Jarablus 24-5 
al-Jazeera 111 
Jazira see Al-Hasakeh 
Jeladet Berakhan Cultural 
Association 41 
Jews 10-11 
Jumblatt, Walid 86 

Karakaya Dam 68, 72, 73 
Karami, Omar 87 
Karkamis Dam 73 
Keban Dam 67, 68, 69-70, 72 
Kirkuk 18, 37 
Kirmanshah province 10 
Kordistan province 6, 10 
Kubani (‘Ayn al-'Arab) 24-5 
Kurd-Dagh 24 

Kurdish Human Rights Project 
(KHRP) 70, 75-6 

Kurdistan 5, 6-7, 12, 14, 15, 56, 58, 

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) 
15-16, 17-18, 64 
operating in Syria 63, 106-7 
and PUK 61, 62 

Kurdistan Regional Government 61 
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) 1 7, 
63, 74 

armed struggle (1984-99) 17 
operating in Syria 58, 106-7 

and 2005 Iraq elections 61-2 
and Arabization policies 18, 91-3, 
102, 120, 122 

autonomy 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 


see also Kurdistan 
civil rights in Syria 94-105 
cultural rights in Syria 116-21 
derivation of name 5-6 
detentions in Syria 53-4, 110-12 
division after First World War 6, 
12-13, 15 

economic discrimination 102-3 
and education 101-2, 103, 122 
engineered demographic change 
36-8, 56, 58, 92-3, 122 
and farming 6, 24, 25 
forced assimilation 23, 58, 91-3, 

history of 5-6, 12-20 
and inter-state rivalries 56-7 
of Iran 15-17 
of Iraq 17-19 

Kurdish names 117-18, 120-1 
language restrictions 8-9, 17, 23, 
31, 56, 113, 116-19 
languages 8, 23-4, 117 
and March 2004 unrest 41-2, 44, 
53-4, 55, 81, 109, 120 
and military service 104 
music 120 

nationalism 16, 28-9, 31-2 
political rights in Syria 106-15 
population estimates 7-8, 23 
and religion 9-11, 24 
safe haven in Iraq 60-1, 62-4 
settlements in Syria 24-6 

158 The Kurds in Syria 

Kurds continued 
of Syria 19-20 

and Syrian citizenship 33-4, 81, 
92, 94-8, 104-5, 122, 124 
see also Hasakeh census 
of Turkey 1 7 

uprising in Iraq (1961) 16, 18 
Kurmanji 8, 9, 23, 117 

Lahoud, Emile 87 
Law No. 49 44 
Lawyers Unions, Syria 54 
League of Nations 13 
Lebanon 28, 57, 58, 77-8, 82, 84-7, 

McMahon, Sir Henry 12 
Mahabad Republic 15 
Majlis al-Sha'ab (People's Assembly) 
47, 48, 49, 53 

March Manifesto (1970) 18 
MEDA programme 79 
Mesopotamia 14-15 
Mezzah prison 32 
Milli tribe 27 
Mosul 13, 14 

movement, freedom of 99-100 
Mu’allim, Waleed 74 
Muhammad, Ghazi 15 
Muslim Brotherhood 44, 110 
Muslims 10, 24, 28 
Mustafa, Hasan 111 
Mustafa, Khalil 110-11 

Nahalawi, Abd al-Karim 32 
Nasan, Ibrahim 113 
al-Nasser, Garnad Abd 31-2, 36 
right to 94-8 
see also Hasakeh census 
Newroz (Kurdish New Year) 9, 

Nikitine, Basile 121 

Ocalan, Abdullah 17, 58 

Pahlavi, Mohammed Reza, Shah of 
Iran 16, 18, 56 
Pahlawani languages 8 

Palestine 30 

Partiya Demokrat a Kurdistan-Suriye 
(al-Parti) 32 

Partiya Yekiti Kurdi li Suriye 108-9 
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) 
61, 62, 63, 64, 106-7 
Perthes, Volker 49 
Picot, Francois Georges 12 
place names 117-18, 120-1 
political rights 106-15 
Pontus mountains 5 
private property, right to 100, 122 
Progressive National Front (PNF) 
45, 48-9, 106-7, 111 

Al'Qa'em 65 

Qamishli, March 2004 unrest 41-2, 
44, 53-4, 55, 81, 109, 120 
Qassim, Abd al-Karim 18 
Qutil 5 

al-Ramadi barrage 66-7 
Rawanduz 14 

Revolution Protection Law (1965) 

Rice, Condoleezza 87 
Russia, support for Syria 77 

Saddam Dam 69 

Saladin (Salah al-Din Ayubi) 25 

al-Salhiyya 25, 27 

Salih, Hasan 109, 111 

Salim, Abdul-Razzaq 113-14 

Samara Dam 69 

Sandjar, Prince 6 

Shafi’i school 10 

Shamdin family 25-6 

sharia' law 52 

Shaft Al-Arab waterway 18, 65 
Shi'ites 10, 60, 62 
al-Shishakli, Adib 31, 111, 120 
Sorani 8, 10 
Suez War (1955) 31 
Sufis 10 

Sunni Muslims 24, 29, 30, 35, 43 
Supreme Constitutional Court 54 
Sykes, Sir Mark 12 
Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) 12, 
13, 28 

Index 159 


agriculture 51-2 
and Arab nationalism 27, 29, 
30-1, 39 

Arabization policy 91-3, 102, 

120, 122 

civil rights of Kurds 94-105 

Constitution 31, 52-3, 54 

Corrective Movement 43, 46 

Council of Ministers/Cabinet 47 

cultural rights of Kurds 116-21 

economic system 50-2 

and EU 51, 79-80 

and Europe 51, 78-82 

and French Mandate 23, 28-30 

and GAP project 68-73 

and history of Kurds 19-20 

history of 27-42 

and human rights 81-2, 83 

independence 23, 27, 28, 30 

international relations 77-87, 123 

and Iraq 83-5 

judicial authority 54-5 

land reform 31-2, 36-8, 122 

legal system 52-5 

and liberalization 40-1, 50, 51 

and military 43-4 

oil industry 50, 50-1, 52 

and patronage 43 

Penal Code 55 

People's Assembly 47, 48, 49, 53 
political rights of Kurds 106-15 
political system 43-50 
popular organizations 50, 54 
President 46-7, 53, 54, 55 
regional relations 56-64 
state of emergency 52, 53-4 
state structure 43-55 
television 113-14 
and terrorism 77, 83, 84-5 
and Turkey 57-9 
and US 77, 82-7 

and weapons of mass destruction 
(WMD) 80, 83, 84 
and WTO 51 

Syrian Accountability and Lebanese 
Sovereignty Act (SALSA) 83, 

Syrian Arab Republic 32 

Syrian Communist Party (SCP) 30, 49 
Syrian Human Rights Committee 44 
Syrian State Security Courts (SSSC) 

Tabqa Dam (al-Thawrah) 36, 59, 67 

Tadmur Prison 44 

Ta'if Accord 82, 83, 85, 87 

Talabani, Jalal 61, 62 

Taurus Mountains 5, 6, 24 

Tel Abyad 24-5 

Tiglath-Pileser I 6 

Tigris River 57, 66, 67, 68-71, 73, 

74, 75 

see also GAP (Southeast Anatolia) 

Al-Tikriti, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan 

Treaty of Lausanne (1923) 14-15 
Treaty of Sevres (1920) 13-14, 17 
Les Troupes Speciales de Levant 
(Levantine Security Forces) 29 
A1 Turk, Riad 81-2 
Turkey 17, 38, 57-9 

and EU membership 72 
and Iraqi Kurdish refugees 60 
NATO membership 72 
and Treaty of Lausanne 15 
Turkish War of Independence 
(1920-22) 14, 27 

Umran, Adnan 112 
'Umran, Muhammad 36 

United Arab Republic (UAR) 31, 36 
United Nations 

Committee on the Elimination of 
Racial Discrimination 91, 93 
Resolution 688 60-1 
Resolution 1441 83 
Resolution 1511 83 
Resolution 1559 77-8, 85-6, 87 
Universal Declaration of Human 

Rights (UDHR) 94-5, 98, 99, 100 
Al-'Utari, Naji 79, 109 
'Uthman, Marwan 109, 111 

Wahbi, Tawfiq 8 

war on terror 57, 77, 123 

160 The Kurds in Syria 

wasta 102-3 

water resources 7, 57, 58, 59-60, 

dams 59, 66-8, 69-70, 71-2, 73 
see also GAP (Southeast Anatolia) 

weapons of mass destruction 
(WMD) 80, 83, 84 
Wilson, Woodrow 12-13 
World Bank 50, 51 
World Children's Day 109 
World Commission on Dams 65, 72 

Xwebun 28-9 

Yazdanism 9 
Yezidis 9-10, 24 
Yilmaz, Mesut 71 
Young Turks 14 
al- Yousef family 25-6 

Zagros Mountains 5, 6 
Zaza dialect 8, 9 
Zor Ava 26, 100 
Zoroastrianism 9, 24